Culms 25-65(77) cm, erect. Blades usually puberulent abaxially, sometimes glabrous. Spikes 7-20 cm, usually exserted, usually with 2 spikelets per node. Spikelets with (1)2-4(5) florets, lowermost floret functional. Glume awns 50-125 mm, entire; lemma awns 50-120 mm; paleas rarely with the veins extended as bristles.
Elymus elymoides subsp. brevifolius has a wide ecological and elevation range, extending from the arid Sonoran Desert to subalpine habitats, from 600-3500 m. It extends further south than the other subspecies, into northern Mexico , and is rare in Canada .