Pictured from left to right: Bromus ciliatus (2 photos), Bromus inermis (2 photos) and Bromus kalmii


This genus is characterized by several-flowered long spikelets, often in nodding panicles. Leaf blades are wide and flat with very short ligules. Glumes are unequal and acute or acuminate while the lemmas are awned from a bifid apex. Several species are weedy but some are frequently used in roadside plantings for their soil-binding properties.

There are 8 species in MN; 4 native.

Common species:

Bromus ciliatus (bro' mus sill lee a' tus)

  • Synonyms: None
  • Common names: fringed brome, hairy brome, swamp chess
  • Origin and habitat: Native; moist to wet habitats
  • Identifying characters: Nodal areas are generally covered in a felt-like pubescence and the lowest leaves often have long hairs and a very short ligule (up to 1 mm long). The second glume is awned (unusual for the genus) and the lemmas are ciliate on their margins.
  • Comments: This can be a rather variable species in terms of size of the inflorescence and amount of pubescence. It is one of the few bromes that can be found in moist habitats. 

Bromus inermis (bro' mus ee ner' miss)

  • Synonyms: None
  • Common names: smooth brome, Hungarian brome; Lakota: peji hanskaska psi iyececa
  • Origin and habitat: Introduced from southern Europe; roadsides and other disturbed habitats
  • Identifying characters: Similar in appearance to fringed brome (B. ciliatus), this species is slightly shorter in stature and often has short hairs in the nodal area rather than a felt-like pubescence. Leaf blades have a peculiar w-shaped indentation or marking on the upper half. The inflorescences are erect with ascending branches. Lemmas can be awnless or have a very short awn only 1-2.5 mm long.
  • Comments: Smooth brome is considered to be a valuable forage and cover crop and has been widely cultivated for hay. The plants also provide high quality wildlife cover. Its drought tolerance, rapid establishment, and good soil-binding characteristics allows it to do well along open roadsides and has been a choice plant for seeding along new roadways. When fully mature the panicle branches spread widely and may even droop somewhat.

Bromus kalmii (bro' mus kal' me eye)

  • Synonyms: None
  • Common names: Kalm’s brome, wild chess
  • Origin and habitat: Native; moist to dry, often sandy habitats, sometimes in savannas
  • Identifying characters: Stems of wild chess generally are rather loosely clustered as if placed in a vase. The nodes are pubescent with short hairs and the leaf blades are sparsely hairy. Spikelets are 1.5-2.5 mm long and softly hairy over most surfaces and the lemma apex is minutely bifid.
  • Comments: This is the only common brome that is pubescent in the spikelets. Its overall habit is also a good identifier. It can be readily distinguished from fringed brome (B. ciliatus) by having hairs over the surface of the lemmas not just the margins.

bromus_ciliatus.jpgBromus intermisBromus kalmii

Additional species in Minnesota:
B. altissimus
B. japonicus
B. pubescens
B. secalinus
B. tectorum

Copyright 2002, A.F. Cholewa, J.F. Bell Museum of Natural History, University of Minnesota / No portion of this guide may be duplicated without written permission of author.