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Mackenzie Hairgrass is a rare grass species that grows in tufts. The plant is a dense bunch of stems with fibrous roots. It has narrow green leaves, mostly at the base of the plant. The leaves are firm with prominent veins. The flower heads are open branching structures which are pale straw-coloured and about 10 to 20 cm long.

Height: 70 to 100 cm (28 to 39 in)

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Mackenzie Hairgrass is found only in the Athabasca Sand Dunes in northern Saskatchewan. There is also a site on the east shore of Great Slave Lake, NWT, in Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve, where a specimen of Mackenzie Hairgrass was collected in 1927. More work is needed to confirm the species in the NWT.

Range map information

Mackenzie Hairgrass is adapted to live in a sand dune environment. It grows among the dunes and on beaches along the shore of Lake Athabasca, Saskatchewan, and is most abundant in open sandy areas. It seems to play an important role in holding sand in place and influences the stability of the sand dunes.

Mackenzie Hairgrass is pollinated and dispersed by wind. The seeds germinate in areas of open sand. The seeds require a winter season for successful germination in the spring, and can remain viable for several years.

In the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Saskatchewan, Mackenzie Hairgrass is relatively common and the population seems to be stable. In the NWT, there is only one unverified record of Mackenzie Hairgrass and no information on the size or trend of that potential population.

Mackenzie Hairgrass is vulnerable to any threats that could change its sand dune habitat in Saskatchewan. This may include climate change, human disturbances, acid deposition, and invasive species. Its low genetic diversity and restricted distribution make it difficult for Mackenzie Hairgrass to adapt to changes.

Most of the Mackenzie Hairgrass population is found within Athabasca Sand Dunes Provincial Park of Saskatchewan. The unconfirmed NWT site is within Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed Mackenzie Hairgrass as a species of Special Concern in 1999, 2001 and 2018. Mackenzie Hairgrass was listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2018. 

North Slave / Tłı̨chǫ