Plants perennial; cespitose. Culms 30-120 cm, erect, unbranched. Leaves basal and cauline, pale green, sometimes glaucous; sheaths longer or shorter than the internodes, glabrous except at the summit; collars densely to sparsely pilose or glabrous; ligules less than 0.5 mm; blades 8-30 cm long, 1-2 mm wide, usually flat, often curled at maturity. Inflorescences paniculate, 10-30 cm long, (4)8-26 cm wide; rachis nodes with straight hairs, hairs to 0.8 mm; primary branches 6-16 cm, abruptly spreading to divaricate, stiff to lax, with axillary pulvini, usually not spikelet-bearing below midlength. Spikelets appressed, rarely spreading. Glumes 1(3)-veined, brown or purple at maturity, acuminate; lower glumes 6-13 mm; upper glumes equaling or to 4 mm shorter than the lower glumes; calluses 0.8-1.2 mm; lemmas 10-15(17) mm, terminating in a strongly twisted, 2-4 mm awnlike beak, junction with the awns not conspicuous; awns not disarticulating at maturity; central awns 5-12 mm, markedly bent near the base; lateral awns absent or to 1(3) mm, erect; anthers 1.2-2.2 mm, brownish. Caryopses 6-8 mm. 2n = 22, 44.
Aristida schiedeana grows on rocky slopes and plains, generally in pinyon-juniper, oak, or ponderosa pine communities. Plants from the southwestern United States and northern Mexico belong to Aristida scheideana var. orcuttiana (Vasey) Allred & Valdés-Reyna, in which the lower glumes are usually glabrous and longer than the upper glumes, and the collar and throat are usually glabrous. Aristida schiedeana Trin. & Rupr. var. schiedeanagrows in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras, and has puberulent, equal glumes and pilose collars and throats.