Range and Habitat in Illinois
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Occurrence in North America
NM ND OK SD TX VA WY
south to eastern coastal Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, eastern Arizona,
and northern Mexico [48,53]. It is incidental in northern Idaho 
and Virginia .
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
7 Lower Basin and Range
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Buffalo grass is a warm-season, native perennial shortgrass . It is
drought-, heat-, and cold-resistant . Foliage is usually 2 to 5
inches (5-13 cm) high, though in the southern Great Plains foliage may
reach 12 inches (30 cm) [55,100]. Buffalo grass is usually dioecious.
Plants are occasionally monoecious, sometimes with perfect flowers
[48,49,54,61]. Flowerstalks are 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) tall .
The male inflorescence is a panicle; the female inflorescence consists
of short spikelets borne in burlike clusters, usually with two to four
spikelets per bur [48,104].
Buffalo grass sends out numerous, branching stolons [54,106];
occasionally it also produces rhizomes . Roots are also numerous
and thoroughly occupy the soil . The numerous stolons and roots
form a dense sod [54,106]. Buffalo grass roots are finer than those of
most plains grasses, being less than 1 mm in diameter. Weaver 
found that in the Great Plains, buffalo grass roots in silty loam
reached 5 feet below ground, with 70 percent of roots (by weight)
occurring in the first 6 inches (15 cm) of soil.
Catalog Number: US 3048117
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): J. G. Schaffner
Locality: E of Monserrat, Mexico, Central America
- Type collection: Fournier, E. P. 1876. Bull. Soc. Roy. Bot. Belgique. 15: 471.
Catalog Number: US 865418A
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Card file verified by examination of alleged type specimen
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): -. Drummond
Year Collected: 1835
Locality: Texas, United States, North America
- Type fragment: Steudel, E. G. von. 1854. Syn. Pl. Glumac. 1: 111.
Range and Habitat in Illinois
Key Plant Community Associations
Buffalo grass is codominant with blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) over
most of the shortgrass prairie . It is a common component in
mixed-grass prairie [3,30], semidesert grassland of New Mexico , and
coastal prairie of Louisiana and Texas . It is usually a minor
element in undisturbed tallgrass prairie [26,46]. Buffalo grass also
occurs in the understory of pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.),
mesquite (Prosopis spp.), and eastern ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)
woodland , and in oak-hickory (Quercus-Carya spp.) savanna of the
Cross Timbers region of Texas .
Plant community classifications naming buffalo grass as a community
dominant are as follows:
A framework for plant community classification and conservation in
Remnant grassland vegetation and ecological affinities of the upper
coastal prairie of Texas 
A vegetation classification system for New Mexico, U.S.A. 
Characteristics of major grassland types in western North Dakota 
Distribution and ecology of loess hill prairies in Atchison and Holt
counties in northwestern Missouri 
A study of the vegetation of the sandhills of Nebraska 
Plant communities of Texas 
Analysis of grassland vegetation on selected key areas in southwestern
North Dakota 
Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
505 Grama-tobosa shrub
601 Bluestem prairie
604 Bluestem-grama prairie
605 Sandsage prairie
611 Blue grama-buffalo grass
701 Alkali sacaton-tobosagrass
703 Black grama-sideoats grama
704 Blue grama-western wheatgrass
705 Blue grama-galleta
706 Blue grama-sideoats grama
710 Bluestem prairie
711 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie
712 Galleta-alkali sacaton
715 Grama-buffalo grass
717 Little bluestem-Indiangrass-Texas wintergrass
720 Sand bluestem-little bluestem (dunes)
727 Mesquite-buffalo grass
732 Cross timbers-Texas (little bluestem-post oak)
802 Missouri prairie
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
More info for the term: shrub
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K031 Oak-juniper woodlands
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K054 Grama-tobosa prairie
K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe
K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna
K060 Mesquite savanna
K061 Mesquite-acacia savanna
K065 Grama-buffalo grass
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalo grass
K069 Bluestem-grama prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie
K084 Cross Timbers
K085 Mesquite-buffalo grass
K087 Mesquite-oak savanna
K096 Northeastern spruce-fir forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands
clay, then fine-textured loam. It is rare on sandy soils [10,81].
Soils supporting buffalo grass are usually alkaline [10,19,49], with a
high water-holding capacity (33-66%) . Buffalo grass grows mostly
on dry uplands and/or disturbed sites in mixed- and tallgrass prairie
[3,48]. It grows best in regions of the Great Plains where annual
precipitation ranges between 12 and 25 inches (305 and 635 mm) .
It is widely adapted, however, to extremes in climate and elevation
[21,106]. Elevation at which buffalo grass occurs ranges from 2,000
feet (600 m) in Montana to 6,300 feet (1,890 m) in Wyoming .
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
40 Post oak-blackjack oak
66 Ashe juniper-redberry (Pinchot) juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
Habitat & Distribution
Based on studies in:
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
Fire Management Implications
Spring prescribed burning increased buffalo grass cover within the
2-year study period, and reduced ponderosa pine cover.
Burning in mixed-grass prairie increased production of forbs and
warm-season grasses including buffalo grass. Utilization of herbaceous
species by elk, deer, and bison was higher in burned than unburned
areas. Of all the Park ungulates, bison used the burns most intensively,
with their use peaking in summer. Prescribed burning did not, however,
increase the amount of forage available to bighorn sheep in late summer
and presumably, winter.
Mortality of ponderosa pine over the study area was approximately 50
percent. Pine expansion into mixed-grass prairie was curtailed.
were variable. Mean annual temperature at Custer, South Dakota (20 km
northwest), was 42 degrees Fahrenheit (6 deg C). Mean annual
precipitation was 18.4 inches (460 mm). Annual precipitation at Custer
State Park was 14.9 inches (372 mm) in 1987 and 13.5 inches (337 mm) in
Burn days: Peak temperature was 75 deg Fahrenheit (23 deg C) on 27
April 1987 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 deg C) on 28 April 1987.
Relative humidity ranged from 17 to 34 percent. Winds were from the
south to southeast at 13 to 42 miles per hour (8-25 km/hr). Fine fuel
moisture was approximately 5 percent.
Fire Management Considerations
Fall burning in a shortgrass-mixed-grass transition zone of the Flint
Hills of Kansas reduced prairie threeawn (Aristida oligantha), an annual
grass with little to no forage value for livestock, and increased
relative abundance of the dominant perennial grasses, buffalo grass and
blue grama. Percentages of total herbage production in fall, 1972, with
no burning, fall burning, and spring burning, were :
prairie threeawn Perennial grasses Western ragweed
---------------- ------------------ ---------------
unburned 73.7 21.2 5.0
spring (1) 84.0 14.0 2.0
fall (2) 13.7 75.8 7.0
1=burned 4 April 1972; 2=burned 8 November 1971
April prescribed fire in mixed-grass prairie of southern Nebraska also
reduced nonnative, cool-season annuals and increased the native,
warm-season dominants, buffalo grass and blue grama .
There was no significant relationship between fireline intensity and
postfire response of buffalo grass after spring burning in western Texas
grassland. High-intensity (approximately 5,570 kW/m) headfire did no
more damage to buffalo grass than low-intensity (approximately 70 kW/m)
Buffalo grass mortality may be higher with backfires than headfires.
Being more slow-moving, backfires tend to generate more heat at ground
Wright has provided prescriptions for burning buffalo grass in the
central and southern Great Plains , the Edwards Plateau  and
Rio Grande Plains [113,114] regions of Texas, and in chained
mesquite-tobosa communities .
Plant Response to Fire
Burning generally either favors buffalo grass or has no long-term effect
upon it [108,110]. In some studies, buffalo grass productivity is
unchanged or increases in the first postfire year [14,15]. Wright 
concluded from several studies that in western Texas, buffalo grass was
neither harmed nor favored by fire. In southern Nebraska, April burning
of loess hill mixed-grass prairie had no significant (p=.1) effect on
buffalo grass cover the following June or September. However, buffalo
grass cover on burn plots had increased significantly compared to
control plots by the second September after fire .
Fire had no long-term effect on buffalo grass at the Kansas Agricultural
Experimental Station. Launchbaugh  reported that after a March
wildfire in shortgrass prairie there, buffalo grass cover at postfire
year 1 was reduced by 48 percent on burned areas as compared to adjacent
unburned areas; height at the end of the first growing season was 6.7
inches (17.0 cm) on burned sites and 11.9 inches (30.2 cm) on unburned
sites. By postfire year 2, buffalo grass cover on burned sites was 39
percent less than on unburned sites, and by postfire year 3 there was no
significant difference in buffalo grass cover between burned and
Buffalo grass recovery time may vary depending upon phenological stage,
season of burning, fire severity, and/or postfire weather conditions.
In a bluestem (Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium) pasture
in Kansas, buffalo grass declined under 10 years of early (20 March) and
late spring (1 May) annual burning compared to annual mid-spring (10
April) and no burning. Buffalo grass basal cover (%) after 10 years was
unburned early mid- late
2.21a 1.08b 2.65a 1.37a
Percentages followed by the same letter
do not differ significantly (p less than 0.05).
Spring (April) prescribed burning in mixed-grass prairie in Badlands
National Park, South Dakota, favored buffalo grass. Buffalo grass began
vegetative expansion and produced seed during the first growing season
after fire . Compared to the control (no burn), buffalo grass
standing crop increased for 2 to 3 postfire years, then returned to
approximate prefire levels with onset of a drought .
Buffalo grass increased significantly (p=0.05) after various treatments
involving prescribed burning on the South Texas Plains-Texas Gulf
Prairie interface. Burning was effected to reduce woody plant invasion.
Treatments were shredding, chopping, or scalping followed by prescribed
burning 2 years later, and a control (prescribed burning only). All
prescribed burning was done in September 1965. Percentage composition
of buffalo grass in July 1966 was :
Control Shredded Chopped Scalped Average
------- -------- ------- ------- -------
U B U B U B U B U B
13 15 11 12 6 17 6 17 9 15
Brush cover was significantly (p=0.05) reduced from prefire levels at
postfire year 1, although less than 15 percent of woody plants were
actually killed by the fire .
In another southern Texas study on the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife
Refuge, plots were subjected to a fall (September) fire, a winter
(December) fire, or a fall fire with a winter reburn the following year.
Burning was conducted in 1965 and 1966. Buffalo grass production
(lb/acre) in August 1967 was :
Control Fall Winter Fall & Winter
355 330 315 401
April prescribed burning in cultivated buffalo grass in Kansas reduced
subsequent summer seed yield. Unburned portions of the field produced
303 pounds of buffalo grass seed per acre compared to 79 pounds per acre
on the burned portion .
See the Research Project Summary, Effects of spring prescribed fire and
chaining on tobosa and buffalo grass communities in Lynn County, Texas, for
additional information on buffalo grass response to prescribed fire and
Immediate Effect of Fire
Buffalo grass is not completely consumed in most grassland fires.
Typically the upper part of the plant burns, and damage to basal
portions of the plant is uncommon [45,99]. With grassland fires, flames
fanned by even light winds seldom stay in one spot long enough to
produce high temperatures at the soil surface. Fire intensities lethal
to native perennial grasses such as buffalo grass rarely, if ever, occur
during prescribed grassland fire . Even with wildfires,
temperatures near perennating tissues at the soil surface are usually
not lethal. Unburned stubble often remains after fire has passed, and
shallowly placed buds and seeds are unharmed [32 and references
therein]. Wildfire occurring during drought, however, may generate
temperatures high enough to kill buffalo grass perennating buds [32,45].
Lethal temperatures may also occur at the soil surface if woody plant
invasion into grassland has occurred. Soil surface temperatures tend to
rise when woody plants burn, and elevated temperatures last for longer
periods of time .
Caudex, growing points in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Fire was an essential component of presettlement prairie ecosystems
[6,18,76,82,99,116]. Prior to European settlement, buffalo grass
probably burned in all seasons . Areas dominated by warm-season
grasses such as buffalo grass can carry fire even in winter and early
spring , and Native Americans apparently burned various portions of
the prairie year-round .
Buffalo grass survives grassland fire by several mechanisms. Vegetative
regeneration is probably most important. Basal meristems are generally
protected from grassland fire by soil and/or damp litter. Some stolon
apices are usually protected by damp litter . Buffalo grass
regenerates after fire by basal tillering and sprouting from unburned
stolon buds. Recovery time greatly accelerates when plants become
vigorous enough to spread by stolons. Buffalo grass also regenerates
from seed following fire . Because it is enclosed in a bur,
buffalo grass seed is more protected from fire than seed of most grass
species. Buffalo grass burs have been shown to greatly reduce fire and
heat damage to enclosed seed . Regeneration from seed is slower
than vegetative regeneration, however, and is probably most important
when severe fire has killed a large proportion of stolon and basal buds.
More info for the terms: forbs, natural, succession
Buffalo grass appears in early to mid-stage secondary succession .
Costello  described an old-field successional sequence in
north-central Colorado where the initial stage was dominated by annuals,
followed by perennial forbs. Buffalo grass appeared after the perennial
forbs, 10 to 20 years after abandonment.
Buffalo grass is common on disturbed sites such as prairie dog towns
[1,117]. In a pattern similar to old-field succession, buffalo grass
established after forbs and three-awns (Aristida spp.) but before
mid-grasses such as silver bluestem (Bothriochloa saccharoides) and
sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) on an abandoned black-tailed
praire dog town in Oklahoma tallgrass prairie .
Buffalo grass often establishes dominance in mixed-grass prairie with
drought or heavy grazing, and may invade tallgrass prairie under such
conditions [59,89]. Buffalo grass may not require disturbance in order
to maintain dominance on all sites, however. It dominated fine-textured
clay soils in a remnant mixed-grass Kansas prairie that had not been
grazed or burned for 68 years . Van Auken and Bush  found that
honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa) was unable to
invade high-density buffalo grasslands in Texas.
Buffalo grass is somewhat shade tolerant, but cannot tolerate dense
Clements  described buffalo grass-blue grama shortgrass prairie as
"proclimax:" a community held indefinitely from reaching "climax
condition" by the natural disturbances of grazing and fire.
Primarily dioecious, buffalo grass usually outcrosses by wind
pollination . The monoecious sex form is more common in peripheral,
sparse populations, and monoecious plants may be self-fertile . Seed
production on native grasslands in Kansas was greatest when
above-average rainfall occurred in May and June; seed production was
lowest when rainfall during that period was below average . At
dispersal the entire bur, with seeds still inside, abscises from the
plant. Burs usually disperse close to the parent plant; they cling only
briefly, if at all, to animals or clothing . Fresh seed is usually
dormant, requiring abrasion or overwintering to break dormancy. Degree
of dormancy, however, has been found to vary between populations .
Light is required for germination . Ahring and Todd  found that
prechilling at 41 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (5-10 deg C), drying seeds
for 6 to 48 hours at 104 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit (40-70 deg C), or
soaking seeds 1 to 72 hours in sodium hypochlorite greatly increased
germination. Fulright and others  provide a summary of recommended
buffalo grass seed stratification regimes. Reports of germinative
capacity of fresh seed that has been stratified and scarified range from
45 to 70 percent. Seed has remained viable in the seedbank for at least
7 years . Twenty-five-year-old seed recovered from the walls of an
abandoned sod house in Kansas was 15 to 78 percent viable .
Germination rates are usually better when seed remains within the bur
In a seedbank study on the Central Plains Experimental Range, Colorado,
buffalo grass seedling density in fine-textured soil samples gathered
over a 15-month sampling period averaged 112 plants per square meter
. Seedlings grow rapidly under favorable conditions. They have
produced stolons by 2 months of age. By the end of their first summer,
seedlings grow a thick root mass that extends 2 feet (0.6 m) below
Vegetative reproduction through spreading stolons is rapid given
favorable environmental conditions . Buffalo grass stolons have
grown as rapidly as 2.25 inches (5.72 cm) per day . Buffalo grass
also spreads by tillering . Following drought in western Kansas,
buffalo grass cover increased vegetatively from 2 percent in 1940 to 93
percent in 1943. Buffalo grass has been reported to spread vegetatively
following depletion even when heavily grazed . Although blue grama
is more drought resistant, buffalo grass usually recovers more quickly
after drought through vegetative reproduction .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
Life History and Behavior
Buffalo grass growth begins in late spring and continues through summer
[54,89]. In the Great Plains flowering occurs mostly from April to
June, but male plants may flower until late summer or fall . Period
of heaviest flowering varies by location. Flowering is reported from
July through August in eastern Colorado . August flowering is also
reported from Kansas, with male plants beginning flowering slightly
before female plants . Seed ripens from early summer to late fall,
depending upon location. Early July seed ripening is reported from
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Buchloe dactyloides
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Buchloe dactyloides
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled
Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Buffalo grass is highly resistant to grazing [5,9,16]. It usually
increases under heavy grazing, especially at the expense of tallgrass
species [51,76]. Its response to grazing may vary by site, however. On
the Central Plains Experimental Range in Colorado, Archer and Tieszen
 found that buffalo grass importance value increased with moderate to
heavy continuous grazing on ridges and midridges, but decreased with
such grazing on swales. Importance value was low on all sites with
light grazing. Buffalo grass responses to various other grazing regimes
are described [66,74,93].
Buffalo grass is highly drought resistant, although somewhat less so
than blue grama .
Buffalo grass seed is commercially available [43,81]. Guidelines for
seeding buffalo grass onto rangeland, or establishing it from cut sod,
are available [10,21,31,43]
Marcum and Engelke  provide field test results on buffalo grass
response to various pre- and postemergent herbicides.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
cover for wildlife as follows:
upland game birds good poor
small nongame birds good poor
small mammal cover good poor
Nutritional value of fresh, mature buffalo grass in the United States
dry matter 48.9
crude fiber 13.0
domestic sheep 2.9
domestic goats 2.7
The National Academy of Sciences  also provides nutritional analyses
of fresh and cured buffalo grass in other phenological stages (immature,
dough stage, ripe, overripe), and for fresh buffalo grass-western
wheatgrass-bluestem (Grama spp.) mixes. Energy (calories/kg) and
mineral analyses of buffalo grass are given. Harlan  published a
nutritional analysis of buffalo grass seed.
Dittberner and Olson  rated buffalo grass fair in energy and protein
value. They rated its nutritional value for wildlife in several states
UT CO MT ND
elk good fair poor ----
mule deer good poor poor ----
white-tailed deer ---- ---- ---- poor
pronghorn good ---- ---- poor
upland game birds good good poor poor
waterfowl fair ---- ---- ----
nongame birds good ---- poor ----
small mammals good good poor ----
sheep, and horses . Reitz and Morris  rated it one of the most
palatable grasses in Montana. Livestock utilization may vary by region
and year, however. In a cattle utilization study in South Dakota
mixed-grass prairie, cattle selected several other graminoids over
buffalo grass even though buffalo grass was the most productive
graminoid on the study site .
Other uses and values
mixtures. It is of limited use as a hay grass when planted alone,
however, due to its short stature .
The sod houses of early Great Plains settlers were constructed mostly
from buffalo grass .
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
It has been ranked first among native grasses in controlling wind
erosion . It is recommended for rehabilitating surface-mined lands
, and has been successfully established on bentonite  and coal
mine  spoils.
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies. All classes of livestock graze it
during all seasons . The foliage is nutritious and palatable when
green, and its nutritional quality does not decline greatly as it cures
Buffalo grass is also important wildlife forage. Wildlife consumers of
buffalo grass include white-tailed deer , bison , pronghorn,
black-tailed jackrabbit , and prairie dogs . Buffalo grass is
especially important in bison  and black-tailed prairie dog diets
. Bison in northeastern Colorado consumed it year-round, with mean
percent composition in their diet least in May (41%) and highest in
August (84%) . Black-tailed prairie dog also use it year-round,
consuming all parts of the plant . Annual black-tailed prairie dog
consumption of buffalo grass averaged 23 percent in western South
Dakota, peaking in June and July (34%) and reaching a low in December
Mountain plover nest on blue grama-buffalo grass flats in Colorado .
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Bouteloua dactyloides is accepted by ITIS (as of June 2011) and PLANTS (as of June 2011).
dactyloides (Nutt.) Engelm. (Poaceae). There are no infrataxa. Buchloe
is a monotypic genus [48,53,60,61].
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