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Wolf's Bluegrass (Poa wolfii)

Life history

Species overview

Wolf's Bluegrass (Poa wolfii), a Wisconsin Special Concern plant, is found in mesic to dry-mesic woods. Blooming occurs from April through June. The optimal identification period for this species is early June through late September.



  • Distinguishing characteristics: Marginal veins of of the lemma pubescent, at least toward base; lower panicle branches in sets of fours, rarely solitary as opposed to branches in sets of 5 or more; lemmas distinctly 5-veined as opposed to 3-veined.
  • Flower characteristics: Panicle open, somewhat nodding, ovate, 8 to 15 cm long with spikelets clustered toward branch tips; branches usually in fours; spikelets solitary with 2 to 4 fertile florets, ovate and laterally compressed, 5 to 6 mm long; floret callus woolly.
  • Fruit characteristics: Caryopsis with adherent pericarp; hilum (scar on seed showing the point of attachment) punctate.
  • Leaf characteristics: Leaves mostly basal; blades 5 to 10 cm long, 1 to 2 mm wide, apex abruptly acute; sheaths scaberulous, glabrous on the surface; ligule an eciliate membrane.


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


  • Growth form: Graminoid
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Tsuga canadensis, Acer saccharum, Athyrium filix-femina, Thelypteris phegopteris, Carex arctata, C. intumescens, Onoclea sensibilis, Equisetum arvense.

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 Wolf's Bluegrass (Poa wolfii). 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 Poa wolfii in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC
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 mesic to dry-mesic woods.
  • Soils: Streambottom or major wetland soils.

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Wolf's Bluegrass. 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 Wolf's Bluegrass. 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
Northern Highland 2
Western Coulee and Ridges 2

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 disturbance on or around cliffs (moist and dry) within forests where this species has been reported.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.
  • Avoid direct disturbance to sensitive microsites such as seeps, cliffs, and moss-covered boulders.
  • 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

  • This species can be found in openings of the forest understory such as rock outcrops and even old logging roads, but its ability to quickly colonize newly disturbed areas is not clear. Major changes in the canopy will increase temperatures in these microhabitats, negatively affecting Poa wolfii. Forest management which opens the canopy more than 70% is not recommended.
  • Follow BMPs, especially around streams and use care near ravines, steep slopes, cliffs, rock outcrops, etc.
  • Buffer management around unique microhabitats such as ephemeral ponds, seeps, etc.


Wolf's Bluegrass Photo.

Photo ©  USDA-NRCS.

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