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Poa triv and prat002

Unopened Poa trivialis on the left, with long pointed ligule and slightly rough stem. Opening Poa pratensis on the right with blunt shorter ligule and smooth stem. 


The Shropshire Botanical Society newsletters contain excellent guides to some of the more difficult plants such as grasses which can be found here .Poa are distinctive because

‘The spikelets have a very characteristic sharp edged oval outline because the backs of the lemmas are sharply keeled and there is a complete lack of awns, but in most species the spikelet is small (often less than 0.5 cm long) and there may not be many flowers in the spikelet, so that, especially early in flowering, you might need to look with a lens to be sure it is a Poa rather than an Agrostis. ‘(p23)

The ends of the leaves are often keeled in Poa species though beware Dactylis and Seslaria .

I am concerned here with two of the more common meadow grasses found in meadows, namely Poa trivialis Rough Meadow grass and Poa pratensis Smooth Meadow Grass. Traditionally the rough and smooth epiphets refer to how the stem sheaths feel and this distinction is used by Hubbard (1984. p185), along with the long pointed membranous ligule to determine from other Poa species.

According to Cope and Gray (2009. p212) Poa trivialis is extremely variable varying in growth form, panicle shape and colour as well sometimes having quite smooth stems. The pointed ligule being the most important character although this is similar to Agrostis canina, which however lacks the keel shaped tips to its leaves.

Poa pratensis is however more complicated. Cope and Gray (2009) treats it as three subspecies whereas Streeter (2009) for example names them as separate species.

Poa pratensis subsp. irrigata  = Poa humilis  (= Poa subcaerula[Hubbard])

Poa pratensis subsp. pratensis = Poa pratensis

Poa pratensis subsp. angustifolia = Poa angustifolia

Poa pratensis displays extremely variable and difficult taxonomy and Cope and Gray (2009) say that the key to the subspecies is a compromise (p223). For my purposes I am happy to use the broader description, though to take it further the number of nerves on the glumes and the leaf width are critical.

Differences between Poa trivialis and Poa pratensis

  Poa trivialis Poa pratensis
Ligule Long pointed up to 3-9mm Blunt up to 3mm
Stem Rough to smooth Smooth
Panicle Ovate to oblong Pyramidal, open
Form Tufted Stoloniferous