Culms erect or geniculate, 30–60(–100) cm high, nodes hairy. Leaves rather few in basal tuft, moderately to densely hairy, rarely quite glabrous; blade flat or inrolled, to 20 cm long, 0.5–3 mm wide; ligule membranous, truncate, 0.5–2 mm long. Inflorescence a sparse to moderately dense, cylindric to narrowly ovoid panicle, 3–20 cm long. Glumes narrow-acuminate, smooth or scabrous along keels, the lower 1-nerved, 5–10 mm long, the upper 3-nerved, 7–14 mm long; body of lemma narrowly fusiform, 3.5–4.5 mm long, smooth, 2-lobed at apex, with a central awn 10–25 mm long, thickened and twisted in the lower 5–11 mm, and 2 shorter, often unequal awns (2–15 mm long) terminating each lobe; hairs of callus one-quarter to one-third as long as body of lemma; palea narrow, shortly exceeding sinus of lemma. Flowers mainly Oct.–Feb.
A rather variable grass, mostly confined to lowland heaths, woodlands and grasslands, with a few isolated records from the subalps.
Wide variation exists in the dimensions of the panicle and the awns of the lemma, and the extremes appear vastly different, but these are linked by a complete range of intermediates.