Plants densely cespitose. Culms (20)30-80(120) cm, erect or decumbent at the base, mostly glabrous, pubescent below the spikes. Basal sheaths glabrous, grayish-brown, old sheaths more or less persistent; blades (1)2.5-18(30) cm long, (1)5-20 mm wide, flat or involute, abaxial surfaces smooth or scaberulous, often glaucous; auricles 0.2-1.5 mm; ligules 0.2-0.3 mm. Spikes (3)6-11(16) cm long, 5-17 mm wide, erect; rachises hirsute on the margins, puberulent elsewhere; internodes 3.5-6 mm. Spikelets 7-10(12) mm (excluding the awns), strongly overlapping, the lateral spikelets slightly larger than the central spikelets. Glumes (3.5)4.2-9.4 mm, subulate, scabrous or with 0.3-0.8 mm hairs; lemmas 5.5-7.5 mm, lanceolate, glabrous or with 0.3-0.8 mm hairs, sharply acute or awned, awns 0.8-3.5 mm; paleas 5.8-7.6 mm, scabrous, acute; anthers 2.5-5.1 mm; lodicules 1.3-1.5 mm. Caryopses 4.3-5 mm. 2n = 14, rarely 28.
Psathyrostachys juncea is native to central Asia, primarily to the Russian and Mongolian steppes. It was introduced into North America as a forage grass. It has become established at various locations from the Yukon Territory through the prairie provinces to Arizona. It is drought resistant and tolerant of saline soils. In its native range, it grows on stony slopes and adjacent to roads,at elevations up to 5500 m.
Psathyrostachys juncea closely resembles Leymus cinereus, differing primarily in having a rachis that breaks up at maturity. Immature plants can be identified by their shorter ligules and the more uniform appearance of the spikelets compared to Leymus cinereus. Plants with pilose florets have been treated as a distinct taxon; such recognition is not merited.