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Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus L.)

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Virginia Wildrye
Photo © Marlo Perdicas, CC BY 4.0.


A perennial, cool-season bunchgrass found in moist, sunny to partly-sunny areas, native to almost all but the westernmost parts of 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.

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Canada Wildrye (Elymus canadensis)
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Early Wildrye (Elymus macgregorii)
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thumbnail of Southeastern Wildrye
Southeastern Wildrye (Elymus glabriflorus)
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This species is one of the most widespread of the Elymus species and is abundant in much of its range. It is found in openings in deciduous woodlands, especially in floodplains and bottomlands, moist prairies, swamp margins, and locally-moist sites in savannas, bluffs, and other open upland habitats. Also found in coastal habitats including brackish and salt marshes, and wet areas along beaches. Sometimes found in anthropogenic habitats including along roadsides and railroads, pastureland, fallow fields, and small woodland fragments.

Found in full sun to light shade, but usually restricted to moister soil conditions, especially on sunnier sites. Tolerates some amount of clay in soil, but prefers rich, loamy soil. Tolerates greater salinity than most Elymus species, and in the northern half of the east-coast, is the only Elymus species found in these more saline habitats. Prefers some amount of disturbance but intolerant of heavy disturbance such as regular mowing.

Flora of North America breaks this species into four different varieties which have different habitat preferences. Var. halophilus is restricted to coastal brackish marshes along the northern portions of the East Coast. Var. jejunus is more common in the west, present but uncommon in the northeast, and absent from the southeast, and prefers higher pH soil. Var. intermedius is most common on base-rich, rocky, gravelly, or sandy soils along banks of larger streams in the central and southern Great Plains and central Ohio and Mississippi valleys, into the northeast as well. Var. virginicus is widespread and common in the entire eastern region, and becomes less common moving west, intergrading with var. jejunus.

This species frequently overlaps with other Elymus species in the same habitat. Relative to early wildrye (Elymus macgregorii) it is less restricted to calcium-rich soils and more tolerant of full sun. Relative to riverbank wildrye (Elymus riparius) it is less tolerance of flooding, and ranges into drier, sunnier habitats farther from streams. Relative to silky wild rye (Elymus villosus) it is more demanding of moisture and less tolerant of rocky soils. Relative to Canada wildrye (Elymus canadensis) it prefers less-disturbed, moister sites. Relative to southeastern wildrye (Elymus glabriflorus), it is more restricted to moist sites. Relative to eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) it is less tolerant of shade and prefers moister sites.

Life Cycle

This species is a perennial, cool-season bunchgrass.

Plants rarely flower in their first year, instead growing only a few narrow blades.

Growth primarily occurs during late winter through spring, and slows down during the hotter weather. This species flowers and sets seed slightly later than some Elymus species, with seed typically maturing in late summer. By this time, the plant's foliage has typically slowed.

Plants experience a second flush of growth in the fall. In the warmer parts of its range and in warm winters, plants will remain lush and green all winter long, but in colder regions, or in colder, drier winters, they go dormant.

On favorable sites, this species reproduces vegetatively at the base by tillering, forming large clumps that become more vigorous so long as good conditions persist. It does not spread long distances vegetatively, instead relying on seeds.

Plants usually compete well against ground-level vegetation. They can die if they become too shaded by trees or shrubs, and, especially on low sites, they can be killed by prolonged flooding. Plants can also be killed by heavy grazing by mammals (wild or livestock), or regular mowing.

Elymus virginicus (Virginia Wild Rye) | Illinois Wildflowers (About This Site)

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye) | USDA PLANTS Database (About This Site)

Elymus virginicus | Go Botany (About This Site)

Virginia Wildrye | iNaturalist (About This Site)

Elymus virginicus (Virginia Wild Rye) | Missouri Botanical Garden Plant Finder (About This Site)

Elymus virginicus | CABI Invasive Species Compendium (About This Site)

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

Elymus virginicus | NatureServe Explorer (About This Site)

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

Photo gallery

Photo © Reuven Martin, Public Domain.
Photo © Marlo Perdicas, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Alexandra Destria, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Sam Kieschnick, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Sam Kieschnick, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Marilynn Miller, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Elizabeth Axley, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Marilynn Miller, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Sam Kieschnick, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © mjpapay, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Zihao Wang, CC BY 4.0.
Photo © Zihao Wang, CC BY 4.0.