Brachyelytrum erectum (Bearded Shorthusk)

Plant Info
Also known as: Long-awned Wood Grass, Southern Shorthusk
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; woodlands, mixed forest
Fruiting season:June - August
Plant height:12 to 40 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle

[photo of panicle] Loose, erect to nodding, branching cluster at the top of the stem, 3 to 7 inches long, very slender in outline, the branches appressed, with 1 to 3 spikelets (flower clusters) per branch, occasionally 4 or 5. Spikelets are loosely overlapping at the tip of a branch, short-stalked, narrowly lance-elliptic in outline and have a single floret.

[photo of panicle branch] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both hairy, the lower glume egg-shaped and less than 1 mm long, often obscure and sometimes absent; the upper glume lance-shaped to triangular with a blunt tip, up to 7 mm long. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma narrowly elliptic, the body 9 to 13 mm (to ½ inch) long, tapering to a straight awn 13 to 20 mm (½ to ~¾ inch) long, prominently 5-veined, variously covered in stiff hairs especially along the veins, the longest hairs .5 to 1 mm long; the palea is 7 to 12 mm long, hairless and 2-keeled, the keels forming 2 teeth at the tip. Arising from the base and running along the palea is a naked stalk (rachilla) extension, half or more as long as the palea.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are 3 to 7 inches long, 8 to 20 mm (1/3 to ~¾ inch) wide, lance-linear, flat, sparsely long-hairy along veins on the lower surface, hairless to rough-hairy on the upper surface, and sparsely long-hairy along the edges. Leaves are initially erect, becoming ascending to widely spreading. Venation is distinct, with numerous cross veins between the lateral, parallel veins.

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] The sheath has thin, papery edging and is densely covered in long, white hairs. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is 2 to 3.5 mm long, straight across to pointed to notched or ragged across the tip, and not fringed with hairs. Nodes are densely hairy. Stems are hairless to sparsely hairy, usually more densely hairy near the nodes, unbranched, erect to ascending, multiple from the base and forming loose clumps from short, knotty rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[close-up of spikelet] Spikelets are light brown at maturity, the florets shedding individually as each grain matures, leaving the tiny glumes behind on the stalk. Grains (seeds) are brown, 5.5 to 7.5 mm long, linear with an abrupt taper to a distinct beak about 1 mm long.


Bearded Shorthusk is cool season grass of woodlands and mixed forests, and reaches the western edge of its range in Minnesota. The leaf venation is diagnostic for Brachyelytrum species and distinguishes it from other species with similar forms, such as Bromes (Bromus spp.), which have multi-flowered spikelets, and Black-fruited Rice Grass (Patis racemosa/Piptatherum racemosum), which has longer, arching leaves, usually spreading panicle branches, blackish lemmas, and hairless, weakly-veined glumes as long as the spikelet (excluding the awns). The only other Brachyelytrum species in North America, including Minnesota, is Northern Shorthusk (B. aristosum); the two were once considered a single species and older references do not separate them. B. aristosum has lemmas with less prominent veins and visibly shorter hairs (.2mm or less) as well as shorter ligules (1.8 to 2.5mm), a slightly shorter lemma body (to 11mm) and slightly longer awn (usually more than 17mm), though there is overlap on these last 3 traits and determining where the lemma body ends and the awn begins is a bit subjective. The lemma hairs are a more consistently reliable diagnostic trait. In Minnesota, B. aristosum is mostly in the northern half of the state where B. erectum is mostly in the southeast quadrant, which may also help distinguish them.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Houston and Scott counties. Photo of Brachyelytrum erectum leaf venation ? Fontenelle Nature Association, used by permission.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: gary - Carlton County
on: 2018-03-23 14:14:36

Also in St. Louis County.

Posted by: Frank@Mound - Maple Plain Area
on: 2023-01-19 09:54:22

Arrived in my woods about three or four years ago after a large oak came down. Directly under a large basswood tree in a patch. Took me awhile to ID, but MWF helped there.

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