The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Grasses of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Redtop (Black Bent)


Scientific Name
Agrostis gigantea Roth


Plant Family
Poaceae (Grasses)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early to Late Summer


Grass structure and definitions - PDF from Oregon State University

Ligule Types, Shapes & Margins (pdf)


Redtop is a naturalized perennial grass often used for erosion control as it can form dense tufts. It has a rhizomatous root system, but does not send out stolons.

The stems are usually erect, from 4 to 48 inches high but are sometimes bent at he base such that lower stem nodes can take root.

Leaves are narrow, flat, about 3/8 inch wide and short, up to 4 inches long, sparse on the culm, more clustered at the base. Ligules are longer than wide, with the back side usually rough but sometimes smooth. The ligule tops are rounded to truncate.

The inflorescence is pyramidal in shape, less than 1/2 the length of the stem, branches spreading, slightly rough, with the spikelets found on the outer half of the branch. The array is reddish in color and can be up to 10 inches long. It matures early. The spikelets are narrowly ovate to lanceolate, green and usually strongly tinged with purple. The glumes are sub-equal, lemmas are 3 to 5 veined but not always conspicuous, usually without awns. Anthers number 3.


Habitat: Redtop is found in much of the Great Plains and it can tolerate wet or dry conditions but is generally found in areas where there is moisture or recent moisture such as after flooding.

Names: The genus Agrostis, is a Greek word meaning a forage grass, from the Greek agros meaning "a field". The species, gigantea, means unusually tall or large, referring to the large flowering panicle being almost half the plant height. The author name for the plant classification - ‘Roth’ is for Albrecht Wilhelm Roth (1757-1834) German botanist who published his research and was later associated with the University of Jena Botanical Institute. One of his best known works is the multi-volume Tentamen florae germanicae, 1788–1800, which is still in print.

Comparisons: A confusing species is A. stolonifera, Spreading Bentgrass, which has a somewhat smaller panicle and the root system forms stolons that are either on the surface or just under, which root at the nodes, forming colonies. This is also an introduced species.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Redtop Drawing

Above: Panicles of Redtop. Drawing by Agnes Chase from Norman C. Fassett's Grasses of Wisconsin

Below: Spikelets in flower. Leaf sheath and ligule area.

spiklets ligule sheath

Below: Spikelet branches of the panicle.


Below: The short leaf of Redtop. There are few on the stem, more toward the base.


Below: Underside of the leaf blade and the root system.

blade root


Notes: Redtop, while not native, is naturalized in the Garden. Eloise Butler may have catalogued it in her early Garden Records. She listed only the genus name in 1914. There are 3 species known to exist in Hennepin County where the Garden is located - A. perennans, Autumn Bentgrass and A. scabra, Rough Bentgrass - both native - and our introduced species A. gigantea. Redtop is not native but widely naturalized throughout North America. In Minnesota it is found in all but 11 widely scattered counties.

There are five species of Agrostis known in Minnesota, 3 native and 2 introduced. The other two are A. hyemalis, Winter Bentgrass (native) and the introduced A. stolonifera, Spreading Bentgrass.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.