"Spikelets 2–several-fld, ± compressed laterally, disarticulating above the glumes and between the lemmas; glumes lanceolate to ovate, acute or subacute, 3-veined or the first 1-veined; lemma in most spp. keeled, often scarious at the margins and tip, generally 5-veined (but the intermediate veins obscure or obsolete in some spp.), often with a tuft of long, cobwebby hairs (called a web) at the base; uppermost florets reduced, unisexual or vestigial; rachilla in a few spp. finely puberulent or scaberulous, otherwise glabrous; lvs ending in a boat-shaped tip; panicles open or contracted, the branches generally in fascicles of 2–5, sometimes more. 150+, widespread, mostly temp. and boreal. Many of the spp. confluent through polyploid (often apomictic) forms."
Annuals or perennials. Culm bases infrequently swollen, or with bulbous sheath bases; new shoots intravaginal or extravaginal, rarely (in China) pseudointravaginal, intravaginal but with reduced or rudimentary lower leaf blades and weakly differentiated prophyl. Uppermost culm leaf sheath closed from 1/20th to entire length; ligule hyaline, membranous or infrequently papery; blade flat, folded, or involute, abaxially keeled, adaxially with 1 groove on either side of the midvein, apex prow-tipped. Inflorescence a terminal panicle; branches 1–9 per node; flowers all bisexual, or mixed bisexual and female (rarely male), with distal female flowers within spikelets, or with partially to wholly female spikelets or inflorescences. Spikelets laterally compressed, florets (1–)2–8(–10), rachilla disarticulating above glumes and between florets, uppermost floret vestigial; vivipary sometimes present; glumes mostly strongly keeled, unequal, or subequal, lower glume 1- or 3-veined, upper glume 3(or 5)-veined; lemmas laterally compressed, usually distinctly keeled, 5(–7)-veined, distal margins and apex membranous, apex awnless, rarely minutely mucronate; floret callus short, truncate, blunt, glabrous or webbed (with a dorsal tuft of woolly hairs), rarely with a line of hairs around base of lemma; palea subequal or infrequently to 2/3 as long as lemma, not gaping, keels green, distinctly separated, usually scabrid, smooth in Poa sect. Micrantherae, sometimes pilulose to villous, margins usually smooth, glabrous. Lodicules 2. Stamens 3, anthers sometimes vestigial. Ovary glabrous. Caryopsis oblong to fusiform, triangular to oval in cross section, sometimes grooved, free or adhering to the palea. 2n = 14–266. x = 7.
More than 500 species: throughout Arctic and N and S temperate regions and extending to most subtropical and tropical mountains, in habitats such as temperate forests, mountain slopes, grasslands, wetlands, steppes, alpine areas and tundra, deserts, and around human habitation, on acidic to sub-basic or subsaline, dry to wet soils, from sea level to the upper limits of vegetation; 81 species (14 endemic, at least one introduced) in China.
Poa includes many species useful and important for forage, soil stabilization, and lawns, and several widespread weeds. Five of six recognized subgenera are present in China. (1) Poa subg. Arctopoa: stout plants with thick rhizomes, scabrid to ciliate lemma margins, and glabrous calluses, found in subsaline to subalkaline wetlands. (2) Poa subg. Ochlopoa: plants with bulbous sheathed culm bases (spikelets then often viviparous), or if not bulbous then commonly quite smooth throughout, with shortly villous palea keels and no callus hairs, sometimes annuals. (3) Poa subg. Pseudopoa: slender annuals with scabrid-angled panicle branches, shortish glumes, uppermost culm sheaths closed for 1/15–1/10 their length, glabrous calluses, and scabrid rachillas. (4) Poa subg. Poa: the largest and most diverse subgenus, including annuals and perennials, with or without rhizomes, but generally with the uppermost culm sheaths closed for over 1/4 their length. (5) Poa subg. Stenopoa: commonly tufted perennials generally with the uppermost culm sheaths closed for only 1/15–1/5(–1/4) their length, with mainly extravaginal shoots, mostly without rhizomes, mostly with panicle branches that are scabrid angled from the base, and with 3-veined first glumes.
Some species have races with florets that develop into bulbils that can readily send down roots as soon as they drop from the inflorescence (i.e., they are viviparous). Viviparous spikelets often have fairly normal-looking proximal florets. Pubescence on the lemmas and calluses of such florets is often poorly developed relative to that in normal spikelets, or absent. Identification is easiest with plants having normal spikelets.