Plants cespitose, rhizomatous. Culms 55-125 cm, forming corms, corms attached to the rhizomes; internodes scabridulous basally. Sheaths usually scabridulous, sometimes glabrous or pilose; ligules 0.4-5 mm, to 1.5 mm on the lower leaves, to 5 mm on the upper leaves; blades 2-10 mm wide, abaxial surfaces smooth or scabridulous, adaxial surfaces scabridulous, glabrous or with hairs. Panicles 8-25 cm, lax; branches 1.7-9 cm, usually appressed to ascending, occasionally divergent, with 1-5 spikelets; pedicels not sharply bent; disarticulation above the glumes. Spikelets 10-28 mm, with 2-5 bisexual florets; rachilla internodes 1.8-2 mm. Lower glumes 4-8 mm long, 1.3-2.2 mm wide, 1-3-veined; upper glumes 5.5-11.5 mm long, 2-3 mm wide, 3-5-veined; lemmas 5.5-18 mm, usually strigose over the veins, hairs longest towards the base, 7-9-veined, veins prominent, apices strongly tapering and acuminate, unawned; paleas 1/2 - 3/4 the length of the lemmas; anthers 1.5-2.5 mm; rudiments 4-9 mm, tapering, resembling the bisexual florets. Caryopses 4-5 mm. 2n = 18.
Alaska, Colo., Idaho, Nev., S.Dak., Wash., Wyo., Alta., B.C., Mont., Calif., Oreg.
Melica subulata grows from sea level to 2300 m in mesic, shady woods. Its range extends from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska through British Columbia to California, east to Lawrence County, South Dakota, and into Colorado.