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Smith's Melic Grass (Melica smithii)

Life history

Species overview

Smith's Melic Grass (Melica smithii), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found in rich hardwood forests in Penokee Range. Blooming occurs early June through late July; fruiting occurs early June through late August. The optimal identification period for this species is late June through early August.

Synonyms: Avena smithii, Bromelica smithii


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Panicle branches reflexed at maturity; base stem enlarged and bulbous; pedicels densely antrorse-hispid (tiny, forward-curving, stiff hairs) and sheaths retrorsely scabrous (tiny, downward-pointing, short, stiff hairs).
  • Flower characteristics: Panicle 12 to 25 cm long, the branches solitary, distant, spreading, naked below, sometimes reflexed, as much as 10 cm long; spikelets 3- to 6-flowered, 18 to 20 mm long, sometimes purplish.
  • Fruit characteristics: Glumes acute; lemmas about 10 mm long, with an awn 3 to 5 mm long.
  • Leaf characteristics: Sheaths retrorsely scabrous; blades lax, scabrous, 10 to 20 cm long, 6 to 12 mm wide.


  • Blooming phenology: early June through late July
  • Fruiting phenology: early June 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, Corylus cornuta.

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 Smith's Melic Grass (Melica smithii). 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 smithii in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1
Global RankG4
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 in rich hardwood forests in Penokee Range.
  • Soils: Moist soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Smith's 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).

Ecological landscapes

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

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Ecological landscape score
North Central Forest 3

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 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 broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

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

  • 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.
  • Maintain high forest canopy cover; this species requires shaded habitat conditions.


Smith's Melic Grass Photo.

Melica smithii

Photo © Steve Garske.

Smith's Melic Grass Photo.

Melica smithii

Photo © Steve Garske.

Smith's Melic Grass Photo.

Melica smithii

Photo © Steve Garske.

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