Hordeum pusillum (Little Barley)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:sun; dry gravelly soil; rock outcrops, roadsides, railroads, waste places, grasslands, marsh edges
Fruiting season:June - August
Plant height:4 to 16 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
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: spike

[photo of spikelet clusters] A single, densely packed, erect spike ¾ to 3 inches long at the tip of the stem, sometimes with the lower part of the spike enclosed in the uppermost leaf sheath. At each node is a group of 3 light green spikelets (flower clusters), each with a single floret. The lateral spikelets are sterile or staminate (male only) and very short-stalked, the center spikelet fertile and stalkless.

[close-up of spikelets] At the base of each spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes) that are narrowly elliptic, 8 to 15 mm (to ~2/3 inch) long including a long, straight, rough awn. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the fertile lemma narrowly lance-elliptic, 4 to 6 mm long with a straight, rough awn up to 7 mm long; the fertile palea is about as long as the lemma and not awned. Sterile lemma are somewhat smaller than the fertile lemma, with awns only 1 to 2 mm long.

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

[photo of leaf, sheath and ligule] Leaves are alternate, 1 to 5 inches long, 2 to 4.5 mm wide, rough textured to softly hairy, flat, and mostly erect. The sheath is open, green, hairless to slightly hairy, and loosely wraps the stem. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is .2 to .8 mm long, more or less straight across, and hairless. Nodes are hairless and brown to purplish. Stems are unbranched, smooth, erect to ascending or the lower stem prostrate then rising at the lower node (geniculate). Stems are single or multiple from the base and form loose clumps.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature fruit] Spikelets turn tan as they mature, the glumes remaining erect to slightly ascending. The entire group of 3 spikelets drops off when mature, leaving a naked stem behind. Grains (seeds) are oval-elliptic and smooth except for short hairs at the tip.


Though the national map indicates Little Barley is adventive in Minnesota, the DNR considers it native here. With the exception of one occurrence at the State Fairgrounds in St. Paul, all of the other populations are in quartzite or granite outcrops along the Minnesota River Valley and the Prairie Coteau region in the southwest corner of the state. While there are many other grass species with a single dense spike at the tip of the stem, Hordeum species are distinguished by the groups of 3 spikelets at each node, each with a single floret, the lateral spikelets usually sterile or staminate, and the group dropping off as a single unit at maturity. It is also a cool season grass (winter annual) which further distinguishes it from species such as the weedy Setaria (foxtails), which are warm season grasses.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Redwood and Renville counties.


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