E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Deschampsia cespitosa (L.) P. Beauv.
tufted hairgrass
Poaceae (Grass family)

Introduction to Vascular Plants

© Adolf Ceska  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #25730)

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Distribution of Deschampsia cespitosa
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Species Information

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Perennial, strongly tufted grass from fibrous roots, stems numerous, 20-120 cm tall.
Sheaths open, smooth to rough; blades matted at the base, rather stiff, sometimes flat but most folded or in-rolled, smooth to rough below, rough above, with a few, prominent, raised nerves, 1.5-3 (4) mm wide; ligules entire but often split, hairy, sharp-pointed or rounded, 4-8 mm long.
Inflorescence a loose and open to narrow panicle, 8-30 cm long, the branches spreading or drooping to erect (even at maturity); spikelets usually glistening, purplish to tawny, 2-flowered, rarely 3-flowered, glumes rather narrow, the lower ones 1-nerved, 2.5-5 (6) mm long, the upper ones 3-nerved, often somewhat jagged, 3-6 (7) mm long; lemmas 5-nerved, 2.5-4 mm long, the tips jagged and 4-toothed, awned from the base, the awns 3-5 mm long, straight or bent, the callus hairs about 1 mm long; lodicules egg-shaped to lanceolate, 0.7-1 mm long, anthers 1.2-2.2 mm long.
This is a widespread, difficult complex and until an adequate monographic study is undertaken we are recognizing only two subspecies for BC:

1. Glumes mostly 5-7 mm long; lemmas averaging 4 mm long; panicles open during flowering .... ssp. beringensis (Hult.) Lawrence

1. Glumes mostly less than 5 mm long; lemmas averaging 3.5 mm, if longer then the panicles closed at flowering .... ssp. cespitosa

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia

Habitat / Range

Saline meadows, beaches and tidal marshes in the lowland zone and moist meadows in the montane to alpine zones (ssp. beringensis) and moist to mesic meadows, lakes shores, rocky ridges, shrub-carrs and talus slopes in the montane to alpine zones (ssp. cespitosa); ssp. beringensis - common along the coast, ssp. cespitosa - common in and E of the Coast-Cascade Mountains in BC; ssp. beringensis - amphiberingian, N to AK and S to N WA; ssp. cespitosa - circumpolar, N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF and S to ME, MA, PA, NC, KY, IL, MN, SD, NM, AZ, and CA; Greenland, Eurasia

Source: The Illustrated Flora of British Columbia


Ecological Framework for Deschampsia cespitosa

The table below shows the species-specific information calculated from
original data (BEC database) provided by the BC Ministry of Forests and Range.
(Updated August, 2013)

Site Information
Value / Class




Elevation (metres) 0 745 2550
Slope Gradient (%) 0 17 120
Aspect (degrees)
[0 - N; 90 - E; 180 - S; 270 - W]
0 212 360
Soil Moisture Regime (SMR)
[0 - very xeric; 4 - mesic;
8 - hydric]
0 5 8
Modal Nutrient Regime
Number of field plots
 species was recorded in:
Modal BEC Zone Class
All BEC Zones (# of stations/zone) species was recorded in: AT(4), BAFA(8), BWBS(7), CDF(20), CMA(7), CWH(225), ESSF(53), ICH(17), IDF(5), IMA(1), MH(22), MS(42), SBPS(49), SBS(22), SWB(3)

Ecological Indicator Information

A shade-intolerant, submontane to subalpine, circumpolar grass (transcontinental in North America). Occurs on very moist to wet, calcium-rich and nitrogen-rich soils (Moder and Mull humus forms), often with a fluctuating groundwater table. Grows in boreal, temperate, and cool mesothermal climates on water­receiving and water-collecting sites with slow­moving, often stagnant groundwater. Frequent on disturbed gleysolic soils or tidal marshes (tolerates brackish water and ocean spray). Characteristic of early-seral or semi-terrestrial, non-forested communities.

SourceIndicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia (Information applies to coastal locations only)


The climate type for this species, as reported in the: "British Columbia plant species codes and selected attributes. Version 6 Database" (Meidinger et al. 2008), is not evaluated, unknown or variable.

Synonyms and Alternate Names

Aira caespitosa L.
Deschampsia bottnica (Wahlenb.) Trin.
Deschampsia caespitosa (L.) P. Beauv., orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa subsp. orientalis HultΘn, orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa subsp. parviflora (Thuill.) K. Richt., orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa var. alpicola (Rydb.) A. L÷ve & D. L÷ve & Kapoor, orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa var. arctica Vasey, orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa var. intercotidalis B. Boivin, orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa var. longiflora Beal, orth. var.
Deschampsia caespitosa var. maritima Vasey, orth. var.
Deschampsia cespitosa subsp. bottnica (Wahlenb.) Tzvelev
Deschampsia cespitosa subsp. genuina (Rchb.) O.H. Volk
Deschampsia cespitosa subsp. obensis (Rosh.) Tzvelev
Deschampsia cespitosa subsp. paramushirensis (Honda) Tzvelev
Deschampsia cespitosa var. abbei B. Boivin
Deschampsia cespitosa var. arctica Vasey
Deschampsia cespitosa var. glauca (C. Hartm.) C. Hartm., non Regel
Deschampsia cespitosa var. littoralis (Gaudin) K. Richt.
Deschampsia cespitosa var. maritima Vasey
Deschampsia cespitosa var. parviflora (Thuill.) Coss. & Germ.
Deschampsia mackenzieana Raup
Deschampsia pumila (Ledeb.) Ostenf.

Taxonomic and Nomenclatural Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References