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Mat Muhly (Muhlenbergia richardsonis)

Life history

Species overview

Mat Muhly (Muhlenbergia richardsonis), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found in cold fens, low prairies, brackish wet meadows, marshes, and seeps. Blooming occurs throughout July; fruiting occurs throughout August. The optimal identification period for this species is early July through late August.

Synonyms: Muhlenbergia squarrosa


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Distinguished by its lemmas, which are awnless and glabrous on the back (vs. minutely pubescent) and its spikelets, which are in a contracted (vs. open) panicle.
  • Flower characteristics: Panicle narrow, interupted, or sometimes rather close and spikelike, 2 to 10 cm long; spikelets 2 to 3 mm long.
  • Fruit characteristics: Glumes about half as long as spikelets, ovate; lemma lanceolate, acute, mucronate.
  • Leaf characteristics: Ligule 2 to 3 mm long; blades usually involute, 1 to 5 cm long, rarely longer.


  • Blooming phenology: throughout July
  • Fruiting phenology: throughout August
  • Optimum time to identify: early July through late August


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction: Rhizomatous
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Parnassia glauca, Aster puniceus, Angelica atropurpurea, Potentilla fruticosa, Scleria verticillata.

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 Mat Muhly (Muhlenbergia richardsonis). 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 Muhlenbergia richardsonis in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
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 in cold fens, low prairies, brackish wet meadows, marshes, and seeps.
  • Soils: Wet, gravelly soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Mat Muhly. 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
Calcareous Fen 3
Wet Prairie 3

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Mat Muhly. 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.

Mat Muhly (Muhlenbergia richardsonis) has very few known occurrences in the state and is of the highest priority for conservation; we encourage you to consult with your District Ecologist or NHI Botanist for specific recommendations for your site.

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.

Management guidance

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

  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.
  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.


Mat Muhly  Photo.

The rhizomes of Muhlenberia richardsonis are slender, rather than knotty and scaly as in many other species in the genus.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Mat Muhly  Photo.

Soft-leaf muhly can be distinguished from other members of its genus, in part, by its very narrow, contracted panicle.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Mat Muhly  Photo.

The narrow, contracted panicle of soft-leaf muhly is not much wider then the culm itself.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Mat Muhly  Photo.

Muhlenbergia richardsonis has very narrow panicles not much wider than the culm.

Photo by Ryan O'Connor, Wisconsin DNR.

Mat Muhly  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: Tuesday, November 28, 2017
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