Fernald's Blue Grass

Poa flexuosa ssp. fernaldiana (Nannfeldt) Á. Löve & D. Löve

Poa fernaldiana ssp. laxa specimen at the New York State Museum herbarium.
Stephen M. Young

Monocotyledoneae (Monocots)
Poaceae (Grass Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank


Did you know?

This species is named after Merritt Lyndon Fernald (1873-1950), who was one of the most prominent and respected North American botanists of the 20th century. The species name refers to the drooping branches of the inflorescence.

State Ranking Justification

There is only one known extant population, with 10 "tufts" counted during the last survey. This population is threatened by trampling from hiker traffic.

Short-term Trends

There are no clear data indicating what the short-term trends are but trampling by hiker traffic may be negatively impacting the one known population.

Long-term Trends

The one population has been known since John Torrey's ascent of Mount Marcy in 1837. There are very little data on how the size of the population has changed over the years. Currently there are only 10 "tufts" present. Overall, long-term trends are unclear.

Conservation and Management


Trampling of plants and habitat by hiker traffic threatens the one known population. This population is also potentially threatened by competition with the non-native species Poa pratensis which has been introduced for revegetation efforts at this site (Zika and Jenkins 1992, New York Natural Heritage Program 2007). Left unchecked, global warming threatens this species in New York.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

The Summit Steward program, which works to inform hikers of the fragile nature of alpine plants, is a critical program which is helping to reduce trampling of alpine vegetation. This program and other efforts designed to reduce trampling of alpine meadows are needed. Also, since there is only one population in New York, an extra effort should be made to keep hikers away from the area where it occurs.

Research Needs

An accurate map of the population is needed along with consistent, ongoing, precise counts and area estimates of the population.



In New York, this species is only known from near the summit of Mount Marcy, the highest mountain in New York, in an alpine meadow at the base of anorthosite ledges and in sheltered places between boulders (New York Natural Heritage Program 2007). Summits of higher mountains (Gleason and Cronquist 1991). Alpine regions (Fernald 1970).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Open alpine community (guide)
    An open community consisting of a mosaic of sedge/dwarf shrub meadows, dwarf heath shrublands, small boggy depressions, and exposed bedrock covered with lichens and mosses. The open alpine community occurs above timberline (about 4,900 ft or 1,620 m) on the higher mountain summits and exposed ledges of the Adirondacks. The flora includes arctic-alpine species that are restricted (in New York) to these areas, as well as boreal species that occur in forests and bogs at lower elevations. The soils are thin and organic, primarily composed of peat derived from peat mosses (Sphagnum spp.) or black muck. The soils are often saturated because they can be recharged by atmospheric moisture.

Associated Species

  • Agrostis mertensii (northern bent)
  • Minuartia groenlandica


New York State Distribution

In New York, this species is only known from the summit of one mountain in the Adirondacks. It is at the southern edge of its range in New York.

Global Distribution

This species occurs from northern Labrador south to the alpine regions of Newfoundland, eastern Quebec, and northern New England and New York (Fernald 1970).

Identification Comments

General Description

Fernald's bluegrass is a densely tufted perennial grass. The stems are 8-35 cm tall. The thin 1-3 mm wide leaves occur along and at the bases of the stems. The inflorescences are 2-8 cm tall and occur at the summit of the stems. As in all grasses, the small flowers occur in structures called spikelets. There are 2-5 bisexual flowers per spikelet (Soreng 2007).

Identifying Characteristics

Poa laxa ssp. fernaldiana is a non-rhizomatous and non-stoloniferous perennial. The culms are terete and ascending to erect. The leaves have sheaths which are closed for 0.2-0.3 of their length, glabrous, and have ligules 2-4 mm long. The leaf blades are 1-2(-3) mm wide, flat, very thin, glabrous, and like most other Poa spp. are cucullate at the apex. The panicles are lax, loosely contracted, up to 2 times as long as wide, and have 1-3 smooth or sparsely scabrous branches per node. The spikelets are 4-6 mm long. The first glume is 2.6-4.2 mm long. The lemmas are 3.0-4.6 mm long, with the keels short-villous for at least 1/2 their length, the marginal veins villous, the lateral veins obscure and glabrous, and the bases of at least some of the proximal lemmas are sparsely webbed or rarely all glabrous. The anthers are (0.6-)0.8-1.1(-1.3) mm long (Fernald 1970, Gleason and Cronquist 1991, Soreng 2007).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

Identification is easiest when this species is in flower or immature fruit.

Similar Species

Poa laxa ssp. fernaldiana can be distinguished from other grass genera by a combination of cucullate leaf apices, 2-5 florets per spikelet, callus of at least some proximal lemmas sparsely arachnoid pubescent (rarely glabrous), and leaf sheaths closed for 0.2 to 0.3 their length. Poa interior and the non-native Poa pratensis are the other bluegrass species most likely to be seen in alpine habitats.

Poa interior which is also known (historically) from Mount Marcy can be distinguished by having lower panicle nodes bearing 5 branches, leaf sheaths closed for 0.1-0.2 their length, and ligules 0.5-1.5(-3.0) mm long.

Poa glauca can be distinguished by having the lateral veins of the lemma usually pubescent, intercostal regions of the lemma sometimes pubescent, 2-3(-5) panicle branches per node, anthers (1.0-)1.2-2.5 mm long, panicle branches moderately to densely scabrous, and panicles at anthesis 3-5 times as tall as wide.

Poa palustris can be distinguished by having the lowest node of the panicle bearing 5 branches and leaf sheaths closed for 0.1-0.2 their length.

Poa paludigena can be distinguished by its shorter ligule (0.5-2.0 mm long) and shorter first glume (mostly 1.7-2.2 mm long).

Poa nemoralis can be distinguished by having the lowest node of the panicle bearing 5 branches, leaf sheaths closed for 0.1-0.2 their length, ligules 0.2-0.8(-1.0) mm long, and panicles at anthesis 2.5-4.0 times as tall as wide.

Poa pratensis (used for revegetation work on Mount Marcy) and Poa compressa both have elongate rhizomes. Poa pratensis also has 2-5 panicle branches per node, and P. compressa has strongly compressed culms.

Poa alsodes, P. trivialis, and P. saltuensis have glabrous marginal veins (Fernald 1970, Gleason and Cronquist 1991, Haines and Vining 1998, Soreng 2007).

Best Time to See

This species starts to flower in late June and is in fruit through August. Therefore, the best time to survey for this species is July to late August.

  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Fernald's Blue Grass fruiting in New York.

Fernald's Blue Grass Images


Fernald's Blue Grass
Poa flexuosa ssp. fernaldiana (Nannfeldt) Á. Löve & D. Löve

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Monocotyledoneae (Monocots)
        • Order Cyperales
          • Family Poaceae (Grass Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Mount Washington Bluegrass


  • Poa fernaldiana Nannf.
  • Poa laxa Haenke [Misapplied to New York specimens.]
  • Poa laxa ssp. fernaldiana (Nannf.) Hyl.

Comments on the Classification

Poa laxa ssp. fernaldiana was known as Poa laxa in the broad sense until the latter taxon was broken up into a few species including Poa fernaldiana Nannf. in 1935 (Scoggan 1950). In 1953, it was returned to the species P. laxa as ssp. fernaldiana. Some authors (Gleason and Cronquist 1991, Mitchell and Tucker 1997) have continued to treat this taxon as P. fernaldiana but according to Soreng (2007), the differences between the various subspecies of P. laxa "seem relatively minor and incomplete" and best treated at the subspecific rank. Only ssp. fernaldiana occurs in New York. The other subspecies are European and western North American. The hybrid Poa laxa x P. glauca is known from the eastern low arctic and its DNA is more like P. laxa ssp. fernaldiana than the other subspecies. It is not known from New York (Soreng 2007). In 2021 the species name was changed to flexuosa to reflect recent changes.

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Haines, A. and T.F. Vining. 1998. Flora of Maine, A Manual for Identification of Native and Naturalized Vascular Plants of Maine. V.F.Thomas Co., Bar Harbor, Maine.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Scoggan, H.J. 1950. The flora of Bic and the Gaspe Peninsula, Quebec. National Museum of Canada Bulletin No. 115, Biological Series No. 39. 399 pp.

Soreng, R.J. 2007. Poa L. Pages 486-601 in Flora of North America Editorial Committee (Editors), Flora of North America, north of Mexico, Volume 24, Magnoliophyta: Commelinidae (in part): Poaceae, part 1. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, USA. 911pp + xxviii.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research http://www.fccdr.usf.edu/. University of South Florida http://www.usf.edu/]. New York Flora Association http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu/, Albany, New York

Zika, P.F., and J.C. Jenkins. 1992. Contributions to the flora of the Adirondacks, New York. Bull. Torrey Botanical Club 119(4): 442-445.


About This Guide

Information for this guide was last updated on: January 31, 2008

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Poa flexuosa ssp. fernaldiana. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/fernalds-blue-grass/. Accessed June 21, 2024.