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Three-flowered Melic Grass (Melica nitens)

Life history

Species overview

Three-flowered Melic Grass (Melica nitens), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found usually on steep slopes or rocky embankments in or near southern floodplain forests and southern mesic forests, as well as in dry prairies. It has also been found naturalized on railroad embankments. Blooming occurs early June through late July; fruiting occurs early July through late August. The optimal identification period for this species is late June through early August.

Synonyms: None


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished from M. smithii by habitat (southern forests vs. moist northern hardwood forests) and lemmas obtuse and awnless vs. actue and awned. Similar to M. mutica, which is found as close as Illinois, but which has shorter culms (0.5 to 1 m) and a panicle with few branches.
  • Flower characteristics: Panicle compound with several spreading branches; spikelets usually 3-flowered, longer and narrower than glumes.
  • Fruit characteristics: Glumes distintly unequal in length; first glume shorter than spikelet, less than twice as long as wide; lemmas obtuse, awnless; rudimentary lemmas mostly minute.
  • Leaf characteristics: Sheaths glabrous or scabrous; blades 7 to 15 mm wide.


  • Blooming phenology: early June through late July
  • Fruiting phenology: early July through late August
  • Optimum time to identify: The optimal identification period for this species is late June through early August


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Acer saccharum, Tilia americana, Betula alleghaniensis, Tsuga canadensis.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Three-flowered Melic Grass (Melica nitens). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Melica nitens in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found usually on steep slopes or rocky embankments in or near southern floodplain forests and southern mesic forests, as well as in dry prairies. It has also been found naturalized on railroad embankments.
  • Soils: Dry or rocky soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Three-flowered Melic Grass. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Natural communities score
Floodplain Forest 3
Southern Mesic Forest 2
Dry Prairie 1

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Three-flowered Melic Grass. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid locating landings, staging areas, or access routes in open sandy areas dominated by native grasses.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.
  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Survey for and control invasive plants prior to conducting timber operations, as these can be spread by vehicles and often respond vigorously to increased light; see forestry BMPs for invasive species.


Three-flowered Melic Grass Photo.

Photo © Emmet Judziewicz.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition