Description and adaptation
Meadow barley is a native, short to medium lived, cool season, perennial bunchgrass. This species occurs primarily from Alaska to California and east to the Rocky Mountains. It can also be found sporadically in other states. Growth habit is an open tuft with erect to slightly spreading, smooth stalks (culms) that are 40 to 105 cm tall. The flower head (panicle) is a narrow, flattened spike, 5 to 10 cm long with bristle-like awns and a brittle central axis (rachis) that breaks off in pieces from the top down at maturity. Leaves are green to bluish green, 2 to 9 mm wide. They may be primarily basal or extend up and down the stem.
Key to identification: The flower heads are bristly and often purplish in color, becoming stubby at maturity which distinguishes it from timothy (Phleum pretense), meadow foxtail (Alopecuris pratensis), or other grasses with narrow spikes. It resembles common barley (Hordeum vulgare) which is an annual usually confined to cultivated areas. Meadow barley is upright, while its closest relative, California barley, is shorter and more spreading.
Relative abundance in the wild: Meadow barley is common to sporadic in moist meadows and clearings. It is most abundant in maritime environments. Seed shatters (drops) readily requiring careful monitoring of maturity and multiple collections.
Adaptation: Meadow barley is moderately drought tolerant but best adapted to moist soils, including bottom lands, depressions, meadows, the edges of streams and salt marshes, forest clearings, and ocean beaches from sea level to subalpine elevations. It is tolerant to moderately alkaline and saline conditions, as well as low fertility, seasonally saturated soils, and intermittent flooding. Soil texture can vary from coarse sand to clay. This species prefers full sun. This species can produce a seed crop the first year if sown in late fall or early spring. This is among the more broadly adapted and easier to establish of all native grasses in the western US.
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