Home » Plants » Elymus villosus

Silky Wild Rye (Elymus villosus Muhl. ex Willd.)

Also known as hairy wildrye, silky wildrye.

Page contents
Silky Wild Rye
Photo © lazarus, CC BY 4.0.


A perennial, cool-season bunchgrass native to eastern to central North America.

Range - Expand

Native or Not Present

This tentative map is based on our own research. It may have limited data on Canada and/or Mexico, and there is some subjectivity in our assignment of plants as introduced vs. expanded. Read more in this blog post.

Similar Plants

thumbnail of Canada Wildrye
Canada Wildrye (Elymus canadensis)
View - Compare (Under Construction)
thumbnail of Riverbank Wildrye
Riverbank Wildrye (Elymus riparius)
View - Compare


In the heart of its range, centering around Illinois and regions east, west, and slightly north, this species is common and found in a wide range of partly-wooded habitats including open woodlands, woodland borders, rocky wooded slopes, savannas, woodland clearings, and thickets. In the northeast of its range, this species becomes uncommon to rare, and mostly limited to floodplain forests, riverbanks, rich woods, and coastal areas. Throughout its range it is mostly limited to higher-quality, intact woodlands, and is less tolerant of disturbance and habitat degradation.

Prefers rich, well-developed, loamy soils, but tolerates a range of moisture conditions from moist to slightly dry, and a range of lighting conditions from partial sun to light shade.

The Elymus species (wild ryes) often occur together in the same habitats. Relative to E. riparius and E. virginicus, this species is less tolerant of fine-textured soils, poor drainage, and disturbance, but more drought-tolerant, and it is also less tolerant of full sun than E. virginicus. It is much less drought- and sun-tolerant, and more demanding of good soil texture and fertility, relative to E. canadensis, but more shade tolerant. It is slightly more drought-tolerant and less shade-tolerant than E. hystrix.

We could not find specific research on this species' fire tolerance, but given its abundance in dry-mesic oak forests and savannas near the border of the great plains, which are fire-prone habitats, and its relative scarcity in the more humid, less fire-prone east, this species likely benefits from periodic fire, which may serve to maintain its optimal lighting conditions.

Life Cycle

Like the other wild-ryes, this species is a perennial, cool-season grass with a clumping habit. Growth happens primarily in late winter through spring. This species flowers on the early side for the Elymus genus, with seeds maturing in early to mid summer.

We could not find information on this species' lifespan.

Elymus villosus (Silky Wild Rye) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Elymus villosus (hairy wildrye) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Elymus villosus | Go Botany (About This Site)

Silky Wild Rye | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Elymus villosus | Biota of North America Project (BONAP) (About This Site)

Elymus villosus | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

Elymus villosus | Flora of North America (About This Site)

Elymus villosus | Missouri Plants (About This Site)

Hairy Wildrye | Maryland Biodiversity Project (About This Site)

Photo gallery

Photo © Evan Barker, Public Domain.
Photo © aarongunnar, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Daniel J. Layton, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Daniel J. Layton, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © lazarus, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © lazarus, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Ethan Rose, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © john_hall, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © aarongunnar, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Quinten Wiegersma, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Ethan Rose, CC BY 4.0.