Gymnopogon ambiguus - (Michx.) B.S.P.
Broadleaf Beardgrass
Other English Common Names: Bearded Skeletongrass
Other Common Names: bearded skeletongrass
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Gymnopogon ambiguus (Michx.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb. (TSN 41749)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.140866
Element Code: PMPOA2Z010
Informal Taxonomy: Plants, Vascular - Flowering Plants - Grass Family
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Plantae Anthophyta Monocotyledoneae Cyperales Poaceae Gymnopogon
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.
Concept Reference Code: B94KAR01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Gymnopogon ambiguus
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 16Apr1984
Global Status Last Changed: 16Apr1984
Rounded Global Status: G4 - Apparently Secure
Nation: United States
National Status: NNR

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (SNR), Arkansas (SNR), Delaware (S1), District of Columbia (SNR), Florida (SNR), Georgia (S4S5), Illinois (SX), Indiana (SX), Kansas (S2), Kentucky (S2S3), Louisiana (SNR), Maryland (SNR), Mississippi (SNR), Missouri (SNR), New Jersey (S3), North Carolina (S5), Ohio (SH), Oklahoma (SNR), Pennsylvania (SX), South Carolina (SNR), Tennessee (SNR), Texas (SNR), Virginia (S4), West Virginia (S1)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: The historic range of Gymnopogon ambiguus is from Kansas east through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; south along the Coastal Plain to Florida; and west to Texas.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: This species can tolerate some disturbance as it occurs in open areas within fire-maintained communities; however, intense disturbance such as logging activities, jeep trails, and heavy grazing may damage populations. Fire suppression and habitat destruction are the greatest threats to populations of Gymnopogon ambiguus (Hilsenbeck 1994), while grazing pressure may also be a problem for some populations (Freeman 1994).

Development is currently threatening populations in Florida, as sandhill communities where G. ambiguus occurs are considered prime real estate. Destruction of habitat for pine plantations also poses a threat in these communities (Hilsenbeck 1994, Nordman 1994).

Populations throughout the range of Gymnopogon ambiguus are being threatened by succession due to the disturbance of natural fire regimes. Many states report populations that have been lost or that are declining due to these threats, including Florida (Hilsenbeck 1994), Illinois (Schwegman 1994), Indiana (IN NHDC 1994), Kansas (Freeman 1994), Kentucky (KcKinney 1994), Missouri (Yatskievych 1994), Pennsylvania (Kunsman 1992), and Texas (Carr 1994).

Short-term Trend Comments: Throughout a large portion of its range, G. ambiguus is declining due to fire suppression and destruction of habitat (Hilsenbeck 1994, Schwegman 1994, IN NHDC 1994, Rodgers 1994).

In areas where fire management and natural processes maintain suitable habitat, populations are healthy and stable. In Kansas, much of the suitable habitat is free from developmental pressure, and many populations are stable (Freeman 1994). Populations in Florida that are within fire managed areas are stable and possibly increasing (Nordman 1994). In Kentucky, a population located within a Nature Conservancy preserve is stable and possibly increasing (McKinney 1994). In Texas, populations are stable in fire-maintained areas (Carr 1994).

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: The historic range of Gymnopogon ambiguus is from Kansas east through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey; south along the Coastal Plain to Florida; and west to Texas.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, DC, DE, FL, GA, ILextirpated, INextirpated, KS, KY, LA, MD, MO, MS, NC, NJ, OH, OK, PAextirpated, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
DE Sussex (10005)
IN Daviess (18027)*
KS Chautauqua (20019)*, Montgomery (20125)*, Woodson (20207)*
KY Calloway (21035), Crittenden (21055)*, Hardin (21093), Marshall (21157)*, Pulaski (21199), Trigg (21221), Warren (21227)
NJ Cumberland (34011)
PA Lancaster (42071)*
WV Fayette (54019)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
02 Cohansey-Maurice (02040206)+, Chincoteague (02040303)+, Lower Susquehanna (02050306)+*, Western Lower Delmarva (02080109)+
05 Lower New (05050004)+*, Upper Green (05110001)+, Barren (05110002)+, Rough (05110004)+, Lower White (05120202)+*, Upper Cumberland-Lake Cumberland (05130103)+, South Fork Cumberland (05130104)+, Lower Cumberland (05130205)+, Lower Ohio-Bay (05140203)+*
06 Kentucky Lake (06040005)+
11 Upper Verdigris (11070101)+*, Elk (11070104)+*, Caney (11070106)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
General Description: Gymnopogon ambiguus is a perennial grass between 8 and 24 inches tall. Its stiffly spreading leaves are up to 3.5 inches long and are abruptly narrow at the base. The reproductive structure of G. ambiguus contains unusually stiff perpendicular stems when flowering and fruiting which makes this plant very obvious in the field (Yatskievych 1994).
Technical Description: McGregor (1986) described Gymnopogon ambiguus as follows: "Perennial 2-6 dm tall from a knotty, short-rhizomatous base. BLADES spreading, rolled in the bud, flat to somewhat involute at maturity, glabrous except for the pubescent collar, lacking a midrib, 3-9 cm long, 4-11 mm wide, abruptly narrowed at the base; SHEATHS smooth, long-pubescent at the collar, open to the base, the upper ones often somewhat inflated, not keeled; LIGULE a minute membrane 0.2-0.3 mm long; AURICLES none. INFLORESCENCE an open panicle of spikelike racimes, its overall length 12-18(25) cm, its central axis about 5-10 cm long, its individual branches stiff, ascending at first, then becoming reflexed, the longest 8-15(18) cm long, each branch often with a hirsute callus at its base; SPIKELETS short peduncled, appressed, born in 2 rows on one side of each branch; spikelets 2-flowered, the lower floret perfect, the upper one rudimentary, disarticulation above the glumes, the two florets falling together; GLUMES narrow, stiff, 1-nerved, the first one 3-5 mm long, the second one often slightly longer 3.5-5.5 mm; LEMMAS more delicate than the glumes, 3-nerved, 3-4 mm long, bearing a tuft of hairs at the base and often additional pubescence as well, awned from the tip, the awn 3-8.5 mm long; PALEAS slightly longer than the lemma; rudimentary upper floret consisting solely of an awn (0.4) 1.5-4.5(6.5) mm long on a stipe 1-2.5 mm long. ANTHERS 0.6-0.9 mm long. (2n=40)."
Diagnostic Characteristics: Gymnopogon ambiguus is very similar to G. brevifloris which occurs along the Coastal Plain from southern New Jersey to Florida, Arkansas, and Louisiana (Gleason and Cronquist 1991) In G. brevifloris, culms are more slender; leaf blades are usually less wide (3-6 mm vs. 6-12 mm); spikes floriferous only above the middle and usually less numerous, more distant, and naked at the base; glumes are not as long (2.8-3.7 mm vs. 4-6 mm); awn shorter than the hairy lemma, lemma shorter in general (2.3-3 mm vs. 3.5-4.3 mm) and conspicuously pilose on the back and margins rather than sparsely pilose-ciliate (Fernald 1950, Gleason 1952).

More generally, in the field Gymnopogon ambiguus is likely to be overlooked as a Panicum species when not in flower or fruit. When it is in flower and fruit, however, it is quite obvious, as the inflorescence contains unusually stiff perpendicular stems (Yatskievych 1994).

Ecology Comments: Chromosome number: 2n = 40 (McGregor 1986)

Phenology: Blooms August to November (McGregor 1986)

Gymnopogon ambiguus occurs in fire-maintained communities and may possess fire adaptations (Nordman 1994, Hilsenbeck 1994).

Habitat Comments: Gymnopogon ambiguus is generally found in openings in dry, open woodlands and barrens, preferably in acidic soils composed of sand, sandstone or cherty residue. Associated overstory is usually pine/oak/hickory or oak/hickory (Fernald 1950, Gleason and Cronquist 1991, McGregor 1986, Yatskievych 1994).

In Alabama, G. ambiguus is found in the Central and Coast Pine belts in dry, open pine woods (Hilton 1994).

In Arkansas, G. ambiguus has been found in 21 counties throughout the state (Osborne 1994), and a historic collection records dry soil in woods (University of Minnesota Herbarium [MIN]).

In Florida, Gymnopogon ambiguus occurs in dry sandhill communities with an upper canopy of long leaf pine (Pinus palustris) and a sparse subcanopy of turkey or blue-jack oaks (Quercus laevis or Q. cinera). Gymnopogon ambiguus is infrequently scattered in a ground cover consisting of Aristida stricta, Sporobolus junceus, Schizachyrium tenerum, Rhynchosia cytisoides, Erigonum tomentosum, and Lupinus diffusus, among many others (Hilsenbeck 1994, Nordman 1994). In addition, historic records note collections in pine barrens and dry sandy soil within pinelands (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

In Georgia, G. ambiguus is found in a variety of open, thinly soiled areas and disturbed sites. It apparently occurs in most areas of Georgia except the higher mountains in the northern portion of the state. In the northeastern corner of the state, several Piedmont Plateau populations occur in granite outcrop habitats (Patrick 1994).

The sole population in Illinois appears to have been extirpated. The occurrence, in a savannah on a sandy stream terrace in the southern tip of the state, was not relocated in 1994. Successional growth due to fire suppression appears to have shaded out G. ambiguus. The habitat is currently being restored with fire management (Schwegman 1994).

In Indiana, Gymnopogon ambiguus occurred historically in one county on a ridgetop in sandy soil at the edge of an oak woods, in a sandy woods, and on a sandy knoll within an opening in sandy woods. Two of these sites have been destroyed by development and the current status of the third is unknown (IN NHDC 1994).

In Kansas, G. ambiguus is found on nutrient poor, thin, rocky soils among droughty sandstone outcrops. Typical habitat consists of an open canopy of Quercus cinera and Q. stellata with G. ambiguus occurring scattered within a fairly thick ground cover. Associates include: Aristida spp., Schizachyrium scoparium, Aster patens, Eragrostis intermedia, Agalinis gattingeri, Hypericum drummondii, Croton willdenowii, and Muhlenbergia spp. (Freeman 1994).

In Kentucky, G. ambiguus occurs on dry, sandy, rocky prairies or barrens. This type of habitat is not common in the state (McKinney 1994). Some occurrences are found along streams that cut into the Cumberland Plateau (Braun 1937). Habitats recorded in element occurrence records include a wet, mossy abandoned gravel pit at the base of a hill; the edge of a floodplain with woods and sandy areas in the vicinity; dry, somewhat barren fields; a dry, sandy barren with Buchnera americana and Scleria pauciflora on flat Hardinsburg sandstone; a grassy, brushy roadside with Andropogon gerardii, A. scoparius, and Sorghastrum nutans; and a high-quality 60-100 acre barrens with red cedar encroachment containing prairie grasses, Parthenium spp., Liatris spicata, and Liatris squarrosa (KY HP 1992, McKinney 1994).

In Maryland, historic collections were made from sandy pinelands and rocky ground (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

In Missouri, G. ambiguus is basically restricted to the Ozarks in 25 counties (Yatskievych 1994) where it "frequents pine or oak-hickory open woodlands in acid soils overlying sandstone or chert, either on dry rocky slopes or in flat sandy valley soils; also in sandy open places and glades" (Steyermark 1963).

Historic New Jersey collections are from sandy soil in Pine Barrens and sandy fields (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

North Carolina collections are from sandy fields and Iredell soil on level forested area (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

There are no modern records from Ohio, and G. ambiguus may be extirpated from the state. Historic accounts from circa 1950 record that G. ambiguus occurred in dry, sandy, or rocky acidic openings and thin woods within a single southern county (OH NHP 1992).

Oklahoma collections come from a river floodplain habitat and a site on Garber sand in a grassy field where G. ambiguus was abundant and associated with Andropogon ternarius (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

In Pennsylvania, a historic occurrence in Lancaster County was on an outcrop of serpentine rock in what might have been a good serpentine barren at one time but is now degraded and the occurrence destroyed (Kunsman 1992).

A South Carolina collection was made in sandy soil (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

In Texas, G. ambiguus occurs in the northeastern portion of the state in sandy soils of various kinds in savannah habitats such as open pine-oak or oak woodlands. Associate species include Schizachyrium scoparium, Andropogon spp, Rudbeckia hirta, Lechea mucronata, Helianthus mollis, Tridens flavus, Stylosanthes biflora, Heterotheca pilosa, Liatris elegans, Solidago nitida, Aster patens, Agalinis gattingeri, A. tenuifolia, Eragrostis spectabilis, and Muhlenbergia capillaris (Carr 1994).

In Virginia, a collection was made in an opening in a second growth forest (University of Minnesota [MIN]).

In West Virginia, an occurrence exists on an open floodplain (WV NHP 1994).

Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Management for G. ambiguus will have to protect populations from several threats, the greatest being succession due to fire suppression. The communities in which G. ambiguus is found are largely fire-maintained. Populations found within protected areas that are managed with fire mimicking natural burn cycles are stable and possibly increasing. Additional threats include habitat destruction for development and agriculture and intense disturbance from activities such as heavy grazing, logging activities, and vehicle traffic. Monitoring needs include the determination of population status, trends, reproductive success, and an assessment of habitat quality and threats. Research is needed to study possible fire adaptations and effects of fire management, population and reproductive biology (including seed set and germination requirements), effects of competition, and shade tolerance.
Restoration Potential: Restoration potential likely depends on the level of degradation in habitat. If the habitat is relatively intact, proper fire management is used, and other threats (such as grazing pressure) are addressed, then potential is high for restoration (Hilsenbeck 1994, Freeman 1994, McKinney 1994). Areas in which G. ambiguus is being re-established require ground cover; restoration attempts in bare areas may be difficult (Hilsenbeck 1994). In Illinois, attempts to restore a historic occurrence have been unsuccessful to date. Although the habitat is suitable due to renewed fire management, plants have not returned. This is likely due to absence of G. ambiguus in the seedbank (Schwegman 1994).
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: A preserve design created with the goal of protecting G. ambiguus should include an adequate habitat managed with fire. Because G. ambiguus characteristically occurs scattered infrequently throughout a community, a large amount of suitable habitat is necessary to maintain a healthy population.

Evidence suggests that G. ambiguus responds most favorably to fire management that mimics a natural fire regime (Nordman 1994). If fire management is not possible, manual removal of woody growth in order to maintain a sparse canopy and subcanopy may be necessary. Management at the community level appears to be the best strategy for protecting this element.

Management Requirements: G. ambiguus does not tolerate heavy shading and does best in open gaps and edges, so management with fire may be a good management tool (Yatskievych 1994). There is a possibility that G. ambiguus is a fire-adapted species, as is an associate species, Aristida stricta, and could benefit directly from being burned in a manner mimicking a natural fire regime (Hilsenbeck 1994, Nordman 1994). Properly timed burns may also be important for maximizing impacts on woody vegetation; for instance, in managed areas on Eglin Airforce Base in Florida, growing season burns had more beneficial effects than winter burns (Nordman 1994).

G. ambiguus can tolerate some light grazing, but heavy grazing pressure may damage or destroy a population. In addition to grazing, soil compaction and trampling by livestock may pose a threat to this plant (Freeman 1994). In areas where grazing is going to occur, G. ambiguus would likely benefit from a rotational program.

Limiting ground cover and soil disturbance, as well as soil compaction, is important in a management effort. Disturbance due to jeep trails, fire breaks, and logging operations pose threats to G. ambiguus (Hilsenbeck 1994, Nordman 1994).

Monitoring Requirements: Gymnopogon should be collected or identified when in flower or fruit as it may be confused with Panicum species when sterile (Yatskievych 1994). Monitoring needs include the determination of population status, trends, reproductive success, and an assessment of habitat quality and threats.

Management Programs: At present there are no management programs specifically for G. ambiguus, however there are management programs for the communities in which it is found.

In Florida, the Long Leaf Pine Ecosystem Restoration Project is managing sand hill communities with fire and other methods of controlling woody growth. Further information concerning this project can be obtained from project leader Louis Provencher Telephone: (904) 392-7012. (Rodgers 1994).

In Illinois, the Forest Service is managing suitable habitat with fire as part of a restoration effort for G. ambiguus (Schwegman 1994). Contact John Schwegman, Botanist, Illinois Natural Heritage Division, Department of Conservation, 524 S. 2nd St., Springfield, IL 62706. Telephone: (217) 785-8774

In Kentucky, a large, stable and possibly increasing, population of over 100 plants, is in a preserve managed by the Nature Conservancy (McKinney 1994). Contact Director of Science and Stewardship, The Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Field Office, 624 W. Main Street, Lexington, KY 40508. Telephone: (606) 259-9655

Monitoring Programs: There are no known monitoring programs specifically for G. ambiguus at this time. However, G. ambiguus is monitored indirectly by the Florida Natural Areas Inventory in several studies as a component of monitored communities (Nordman 1994). Contact Carl Nordman, Field Ecologist, Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Eglin Air Force Base, P.O. Box 1150, Niceville, FL 32588. Telephone: (904) 883-6451
Management Research Needs: In order to determine the best management strategies, research into the effects of fire management and possible fire adaptations is needed (Nordman 1994, Hilsenbeck 1994).

Research in the areas of population and reproductive biology, including seed set and conditions for germination, would aid restoration efforts (Hilsenbeck 1994, Nordman 1994).

In areas under renewed fire management after a long history of fire suppression, monitoring plans should include pre- and post burning surveys where G. ambiguus is absent or very infrequent to study possible recovery (Nordman 1994).

Other important aspects of research for management include competitive ability, shade tolerance, and the effects of grazing (Freeman 1994, Hilsenbeck 1994, Nordman 1994).

Population/Occurrence Delineation Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 22Sep1994
Management Information Edition Date: 22Sep1994
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 22Sep1994

Botanical data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs), The North Carolina Botanical Garden, and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Deam, C. C. 1940. Flora of Indiana. Division of Forestry, Dept. of Conservation, Indianapolis, Indiana. 1236 pp.

  • Dolan, R.W. and M.E. Moore. 2017 Indiana Plant Atlas. [S.M. Landry and K.N. Campbell (original application development), USF Water InstituteUniversity of South Florida]. Butler University Friesner Herbarium, Indianapolis, Indiana.

  • Fernald, M. L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. Corrected printing (1970). D. Van Nostrand Company, New York. 1632 pp.

  • Gleason, H.A. 1952. The new Britton and Brown illustrated flora of the northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. 3 volumes. Hafner Press, New York. 1732 pp.

  • Gleason, H.A., and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

  • Herkert, Jim. 1998. Proposed additions, deletions, and changes to the Illinois List of Threatened and Endangered Plants. 100th ESPB Meeting, May 15, 1998. 12pp.

  • Kartesz, J.T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. 2nd edition. 2 vols. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

  • McGregor, R.L., coordinator, and T.M. Barkley, R.E. Brooks, and E.K. Schofield, eds.: Great Plains Flora Association. 1986. Flora of the Great Plains. Univ. Press Kansas, Lawrence. 1392 pp.

  • Schwegman, J.E. and R.H. Mohlenbrock. 1968. Notes on the flora of extreme southern Illinois. Trans. Ill. State Acad. Sci. 61:317-319.

  • Steyermark, J.A. 1963. Flora of Missouri. Iowa State Univ. Press, Ames. 1728 pp.

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