A previous study showed that clonal morphology of the rhizomatous grass Elymus lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus (Scibner & J.G. Smith Gould) was influenced more by neighbouring root systems than by the local distribution of nutrients. In this study we determine whether individual rhizomes or roots of E. lanceolatus perceive neighbouring root systems and how this is manifested in morphological responses of E. lanceolatus clones. Elymus lanceolatus was grown in the same bin with Pseudoroegneria spicata (Pursh) A. Love or Agropyron desertorum (Fisch. ex Link) Schult. plants. Elymus lanceolatus was separated from its neighbours by different barriers. The barriers allowed either only E. lanceolatus roots; only a single E. lanceolatus primary rhizome; or both roots and rhizomes to contact the neighbour root system. When only a single E. lanceolatus primary rhizome with potentially developing branching rhizomes made contact with the neighbour, the clonal structure of E. lanceolatus was modified more with P. spicata as the neighbour than with A. desertorum. With root contact of E. lanceolatus alone there was a similar effect with the neighbouring plants, but there was a more marked inhibitory effect on E. lanceolatus clonal growth with P. spicata than with A. desertorum, compared with the treatment with only a single rhizome in contact with the neighbour. Root resource competition in the unconstrained treatment (roots and rhizomes) between neighbouring plant and E. lanceolatus was more apparent with A. desertorum than with P. spicata. This study is one of the first to document that rhizome and root contact of a clonal plant with its neighbours may induce different clonal responses depending on the species of neighbour.