Plants densely or loosely cespitose, without rhizomes. Culms (5)8-35(55) cm, erect, usually smooth and glabrous, sometimes sparsely scabrous or puberulent near the inflorescence. Sheaths closed for about 1/2 their length, smooth or scabrous, persistent or slowly shredding into fibers; collars glabrous; ligules 0.1-0.4 mm; blades (0.3)0.5-1(1.2) mm in diameter, conduplicate, abaxial surfaces smooth or sparsely scabrous, adaxial surfaces scabrous, veins (3)5-7, ribs 3-5; abaxial sclerenchyma in 3-7(9) narrow strands, usually less than twice as wide as high; adaxial sclerenchyma absent; flag leaf sheaths not inflated, more or less tightly enclosing the culms; flag leaf blades (0.3)1-2.5(3) cm. Inflorescences 1.5-4(5.5) cm, contracted, usually panicles, very rarely racemes, with 1-2 branches per node; branches usually erect, sometimes spreading at anthesis, lower branches with 2+ spikelets. Spikelets 3.5-7(8.5) mm, with 2-4(6) florets. Glumes exceeded by the upper florets, ovate-lanceolate, usually glabrous and smooth, sometimes scabrous distally; lower glumes (1.2)1.8-3(3.5) mm; upper glumes (2.4)2.6-4(4.6) mm; lemmas 2.5-4.5(6) mm, ovate-lanceolate to lanceolate, scabrous towards the apices, awns (0.8)1-3(3.5) mm, terminal; paleas about as long as the lemmas, intercostal region scabrous or puberulent distally; anthers (0.5)0.7-1.1(1.3) mm; ovary apices glabrous. 2n = 28, 42, 44.
Maine, Oreg., Colo., N.Mex., Wash., Utah, Calif., Minn., Idaho, Mont., Vt., Wyo., Alta., B.C., Greenland, Man., Nfld. and Labr., N.S., N.W.T., Nunavut, Ont., Que., Sask., Yukon, Ariz., Alaska, Nev.
Festuca brachyphylla is a variable, circumpolar, arctic, alpine, and boreal species of open, rocky places. It is palatable to livestock, and is important in some areas as forage for wildlife. The spikelets are usually tinged red to purple by anthocyanin pigments; plants which lack anthocyanins in the spikelets have been named F. brachyphylla f. flavida Polunin. Festuca brachyphylla has frequently been included in F. ovina (p. 422), and it is closely related to F. saximontana (p. 430), F. hyberborea (p. 432), F. edlundiae (p. 432), F. groenlandica (p. 434), and F. minutiflora (p. 434). It may hybridize with F. baffinensis and/or other species to form F. viviparoidea (p. 436).
Three subspecies have been recognized in North America. Festuca brachyphylla subsp. brachyphylla is circumpolar and primarily arctic, subarctic, and boreal, extending southward in the northern Rocky Mountains. The other two subspecies are restricted to alpine regions in the western mountains.
|1||Culms usually more than twice as long as the vegetative shoot leaves; spikelets 4.4-7(8.5) mm long; lemmas (3)3.5-4.5(6) mm long; plants boreal, arctic, and alpine in the northern Cordillera||Festuca brachyphylla subsp. brachyphylla|
|1||Culms up to twice as long as the vegetative shoot leaves; spikelets 3.5-5.5 mm long; lemmas (2.5)3.5-4 mm long; plants alpine in the southern cordillera.||> 2|
|2||Culms usually twice as long as the vegetative shoot leaves; awns 2-3(3.2) mm long; spikelets 4.4-5.6(7) mm long; lemmas 3-4(4.5) mm long||Festuca brachyphylla subsp. coloradensis|
|2||Culms usually less than twice as long as the vegetative shoot leaves; awns 1-2(2.2) mm long; spikelets 3.5-5(5.5) mm long; lemmas 2.5-4 mm long||Festuca brachyphylla subsp. breviculmis|