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TREES & plants

Bottlebrush grass

Seed heads of bottlebrush grass.

Bottlebrush grass is a native grass that is found in wooded areas rather than in prairies.  It can be used for naturalizing in shady sites. 

"This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."  

Botanical name: 
Elymus hystrix (syn. Hystrix patula)
All Common Names: 
Bottlebrush grass, Eastern bottlebrush grass, glumeless wild rye
Family (English): 
Grass
Family (Botanic): 
Poaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Grass, 
  • Perennial
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area, 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing, 
  • Mixed border
Size Range: 
  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)
Light Exposure: 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4, 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Other
Shape or Form: 
  • Upright
More Information: 

Size and Form

Bottlebrush grass has an upright habit and grows 2 to 3 feet tall when in flower.  It is a cool season, clumping grass.

Plant Care

Best in lightly shaded sites.  Avoid hot, dry sites.
This plant can be used for naturalizing as it can self seed, but seldom becomes weedy.

This is a cool season grass, so its most active growth occurs in spring and fall.   Unlike other cool season grasses,  it will not be semi-evergreen in winter, but it still can act as winter interest.

Cut back in early spring, before new growth begins.  At that time, it can be cut down to the ground.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious pest problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Native to a large portion of the eastern United States.  Common in wooded areas.

Leaf description

The green leaves are arranged in an alternate arrangement along the stem.  The leaves will grow  8 to 12 inches long and turn beige in fall.

Flower description

Flowering occurs in summer.  The tiny green flowers are produced in a bottlebrush-shaped spike.  The flowers are accompanied by long awns (bristles).  Flowers are wind pollinated.

Fruit description

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) are held in the same spike that held the flowers.  Fruit mature to tan and may begin to shatter in fall.

Elymus hystrix (syn. Hystrix patula) or Bottlebrush grass

We do not seem to have this in our living collection.