Species Profile

Forked Three-awned Grass

Scientific Name: Aristida basiramea
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2002
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(ii,iii)+2ab(ii,iii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: Few disjunct and fragmented populations found in very small habitats within populated areas subject to further habitat disruption and loss through activities such as sand extraction, recreational use and urban development.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Endangered in November 2002.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Image of Forked Three-awned Grass

Forked Three-awned Grass Photo 1



The Forked Three-awned Grass is an annual plant that grows 30 to 50 cm tall. It is branched at the base and grows in tufts or dense clumps. The stems are wiry and often rough; the leaves are 5 to 15 cm long and less than 1 mm wide. The “awns” referred to in its name are bristle-like structures attached to the bract (specialized leaf) that encloses the flower of the grass. Flowering, which is relatively inconspicuous, begins in August and continues into October.


Distribution and Population

The Forked Three-awned Grass is restricted to North America, with a primarily midwestern range. There are outlying populations west to Colorado, south to Texas, and east to Maine in the United States, and north into Canada. There are five known populations in Canada; four are in Ontario (three in Simcoe County, one in Muskoka County) and one is in Quebec near Cazaville. Fieldwork in 2001 revealed there are more than 20 000 plants distributed across the five known populations. Two populations account for the majority of those individuals, however, and the plants are concentrated in a relatively small area. No information on population trends is available, but it is believed that the species has always been very rare in Canada.



The Forked Three-awned Grass is restricted to areas that are dry, open, and sandy or disturbed. This grass is apparently intolerant of competition from other plants, and is unable to survive in areas of dense plant cover or shade. The four populations found in Ontario all occur on low sand ridges or dunes of post-glacial shorelines. In Quebec, the Forked Three-awned Grass is found in disturbed sites within an urban area.



In North America, the genus Aristida is most abundant in dry regions, where some species are important spring forage for grazing animals. Forked Three-awned Grass, perhaps the hardiest member of the genus, has one of the most northerly distributions. It flowers well into the fall, and apparently keeps producing fruit until the weather becomes too cold. The seeds are dispersed by wind and animals. Forked Three-awned Grass is able to colonize new areas, and occupy it in great numbers, when habitat becomes available.



The Forked Three-awned Grass is restricted in Canada to a habitat that is severely limited and is also subjected to urban expansion, extraction of sand, and use by all-terrain vehicles. The suppression of disturbances such as fire, and the planting of conifers, are also altering the nature of some of the existing sand barrens. Invasive species, especially Scot’s Pine Pinus sylvestris, may out-compete Forked Three-awned Grass in some areas.



Federal Protection

The Forked Three-awned Grass is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The largest population in Canada occurs on the Beausoleil First Nations Reserve. A population of more than 500 plants is in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, where it is also protected by the National Parks Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.


Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry


Recovery Team

Forked Three-awned Grass Recovery Team

  • Gary Allen - Chair/Contact - Government of Ontario
    Phone: 705-725-7517  Fax: 705-725-7584  Send Email



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

14 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and status report on the forked three-awned grass Aristida basiramea in Canada (2002-11-01)

    This tufted, wiry-stemmed annual grass grows erect to 30 to 60 cm. It has very narrow leaves (1 mm wide), and terminal fruiting clusters 5-10 cm long that feature long bristly awns. The glumes (lowest bracts around the spikelet) have a single vein and they are unequal in length, the second being longer than the first. It characteristically branches freely at the base, sparingly so above.

Response Statements

  • Response Statements - Forked Three-awned Grass (2004-04-21)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) in Canada (2007-02-14)

    The Endangered Forked Three-awned Grass, also called Ice Age Grass, (Aristida basiramea) is an annual grass found in dry, open, acidic sand barrens, but the species will exploit weedy habitats associated with these sites, such as roadside ditches and old fields. It is highly intolerant of shading and competition from other plants.

Action Plans

  • Action Plan for the Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) in Ontario (2014-12-23)

    This action plan complements the Recovery Strategy for the Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) in Canada, published in 2007 and that was also adopted with an addendum by the Province of Ontario (Jones 2011). The proposed recovery measures seek to implement the broad strategies and approaches to recovery set out in the recovery strategy for populations in Ontario: Anten Mills, Beausoleil Island, Cedar Point Road, Champlain Road, Christian Island, Golf Link Road, Huronia Airport, La Fontaine Road, Macavalley Road, Macy Lake/Methodist Point, and Thunder Beach. A separate action plan will be prepared for populations in Quebec.
  • Action Plan for the Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) in Québec (2014-10-30)

    The Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) is an annual grass mostly found in sandy, acidic, dry and bare environments, as well as on exposed sandstone outcroppings. There are 19 populations of Forked Three-awned Grass found in Canada with eight in Quebec and 11 in Ontario. The Forked Three-awned Grass was listed as Endangered on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in 2005. The Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency and the Minister of the Environment are the competent ministers for the recovery of the Forked Three-awned Grass. The Minister of the Environment has prepared this action plan for the Quebec populations of the species to implement the recovery strategy, as per section 49 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the Government of Quebec. This action plan follows from the Recovery Strategy for the Forked Three-awned Grass (Aristida basiramea) in Canada.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004-04-21)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 2, 2005) (2005-01-12)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2003 (2003-10-01)

    May 2003 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004-03-03)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

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