Perennial herb, sometimes forming rhizomes 20 cm - 0.87 m tall Leaves: with open, transparent-margined sheaths and ligules that are 0.2 - 1.1 mm long, flat-topped, membranous, and sometimes hairy along the margins. The blades are 2 - 8.5 cm long, 2 - 5 mm wide, flat, and smooth or minutely rough. Inflorescence: terminal, spike-like and branched (panicle), 4.2 - 16.5 cm long, 0.2 - 1.5 cm wide, with the base surrounded by the sheath. The ascending to appressed primary branches are 0.8 - 7.2 cm long. Fruit: a brown, spindle-shaped caryopsis, 1.4 - 1.6 mm long. Culm: 20 cm - 0.7 m long, erect, branched above, to 3 mm wide, the internodes minutely rough or hairless just beneath the nodes but smooth and shiny elsewhere. Spikelets: 2.2 - 3.4 mm long, borne on an appressed-hairy stalk 0.6 - 3 mm long. Glumes: unequal, with minutely rough veins and sometimes terminating in an awn to 0.5 mm long. The lower glume is 0.4 - 1.5 mm long, veinless (rarely single-veined), and usually squared to rounded but sometimes pointed or notched. Upper glume 0.8 - 1.9 mm long, with a pointed tip and a single vein. Florets: often lacking anthers, but sometimes with one or two yellow anthers 0.3 - 0.9 mm long. Lemma: 2.2 - 3.4 mm long, lance-shaped with minutely rough pointed tips, terminating in an awn 0.5 - 4 mm long, three-veined, with hairs to 1.5 mm long on the lower part of the margins and midvein. Palea: 2.2 - 3.4 mm long, lance-shaped with a pointed tip, two-veined, with short and soft hairs on the lower half.
Similar species: The following species also have shiny, mostly hairless culms. The glumes of Muhlenbergia schreberi are missing or minute, and those of Muhlenbergia sobolifera, Muhlenbergia racemosa, Muhlenbergia bushii, Muhlenbergia frondosa, and Muhlenbergia glabrifloris are more or less equal.
Flowering: July to October
Habitat and ecology: Rare in woods.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Etymology: Muhlenbergia is named after American botanist, Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg (1753-1815). Curtisetosa means short-bristled.