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Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

General: Grass Family (Poaceae). Western wheatgrass Pascopyrum smithii (Rydb.) A. Love (formerly) is perhaps one of the best known and most common of our native grasses. It is long-lived with an extensive, very strong, rhizomatous root systems combined with a few deep roots.

Stems arise singly or in small clusters and grow from 1 to 3 feet tall. The sheaths are hairy and the purplish auricles are clawlike and clasp the stem. The seed spike is stiff, erect and about 2 to 6 inches long. The awn-tipped (to 5mm) lemmas, paleas and glumes are generally glabrous or short-hairy. The ligule is inconspicuous and leaves are flat, very rough on the upper surface and margins, blue-green in color, with very prominent veins. Because of this bluish color, western wheatgrass is sometimes called bluestem or bluejoint wheatgrass.

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Alternative names

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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

More info on this topic.

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):

1 Northern Pacific Border

2 Cascade Mountains

3 Southern Pacific Border

4 Sierra Mountains

5 Columbia Plateau

6 Upper Basin and Range

7 Lower Basin and Range

8 Northern Rocky Mountains

9 Middle Rocky Mountains

10 Wyoming Basin

11 Southern Rocky Mountains

12 Colorado Plateau

13 Rocky Mountains Piedmont

14 Great Plains

15 Black Hills Uplift

16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

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Occurrence in North America

AK  AZ  CA  CO  CT  HI  IL  IN  IA  KS

MA  MI  MN  MO  MT  NE  NV  NH  NM  NY

ND  OH  OK  OR  PA  SD  TN  TX  UT  VT

WA  WI  WY  AB  BC  MB  ON  PQ  SK

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Western wheatgrass grows east of the Cascade Range from British Columbia south to eastern Washington and Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona, eastward to Ontario, New York, Tennessee, and Texas [20,21,33,56,77,78].
  • 20. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1969. Vegetation and soils of the Crane Springs Watershed. R-55. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 65 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Burearu of Land Management. [456]
  • 21. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1971. Vegetation and soils of the Rock Springs Watershed. R-83. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 116 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. [457]
  • 33. Collins, Ellen I. 1984. Preliminary classification of Wyoming plant communities. Cheyenne, WY: Wyoming Natural Heritage Program/The Nature Conservancy. 42 p. [661]
  • 56. Francis, Richard E.; Aldon, Earl F. 1983. Preliminary habitat types of a semiarid grassland. In: Moir, W. H.; Hendzel, Leonard, tech. coords. Proceedings of the workshop on Southwestern habitat types; 1983 April 6-8; Albuquerque, NM. Albuquerque, NM: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southwestern Region: 62-66. [956]
  • 78. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur; Ownbey, Marion. 1969. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 1: Vascular cryptograms, gymnosperms, and monocotyledons. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 914 p. [1169]
  • 77. Hitchcock, A. S. 1951. Manual of the grasses of the United States. Misc. Publ. No. 200. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Administration. 1051 p. [2nd edition revised by Agnes Chase in two volumes. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.]. [1165]

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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Pascopyrum smithii (Rydb.) Barkworth & D.R. Dewey:
Canada (North America)
Mexico (Mesoamerica)
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
  • Soreng, R. J., G. Davidse, P. M. Peterson, F. O. Zuloaga, E. J. Judziewicz, T. S. Filgueiras & O. Morrone. 2003 and onwards. On-line taxonomic novelties and updates, distributional additions and corrections, and editorial changes since the four published volumes of the Catalogue of New World Grasses (Poaceae) published in Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. vols. 39, 41, 46, and 48. http://www.tropicos.org/Project/CNWG:. In R. J. Soreng, G. Davidse, P. M. Peterson, F. O. Zuloaga, T. S. Filgueiras, E. J. Judziewicz & O. Morrone Internet Cat. New World Grasses. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis.   http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1024044 External link.
  • Soreng, R. J. 2003. Pascopyrum. In Catalogue of New World Grasses (Poaceae): IV. Subfamily Pooideae. Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. 48: 477–478.   http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1019764 External link.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Elymus smithii (Rydb.) Gould:
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Agropyron smithii var. smithii :
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
  • Cronquist, A. J., A. H. Holmgren, N. H. Holmgren & Reveal. 1977. Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. 6: 1–584. In A. J. Cronquist, A. H. Holmgren, N. H. Holmgren, J. L. Reveal & P. K. Holmgren (eds.) Intermount. Fl. Hafner Pub. Co., New York.   http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1725 External link.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.:
Mexico (Mesoamerica)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Agropyron spicatum var. molle Scribn. & J.G. Sm.:
Mexico (Mesoamerica)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Agropyron smithii var. palmeri (Scribn. & J.G. Sm.) A. Heller:
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
  • Anonymous. 1986. List-Based Rec., Soil Conserv. Serv., U.S.D.A. Database of the U.S.D.A., Beltsville.   http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1103 External link.
  • Cronquist, A. J., A. H. Holmgren, N. H. Holmgren & Reveal. 1977. Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A. 6: 1–584. In A. J. Cronquist, A. H. Holmgren, N. H. Holmgren, J. L. Reveal & P. K. Holmgren (eds.) Intermount. Fl. Hafner Pub. Co., New York.   http://www.tropicos.org/Reference/1725 External link.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Agropyron smithii var. molle (Scribn. & J.G. Sm.) M.E. Jones:
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Localities documented in Tropicos sources

Agropyron smithii Rydb.:
Canada (North America)
Mexico (Mesoamerica)
United States (North America)

Note: This information is based on publications available through Tropicos and may not represent the entire distribution. Tropicos does not categorize distributions as native or non-native.
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Global Range: Great Plains; ON (Canada) to BC (Canada), south to KY, TX, CA.

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It is a cool season perennial grass common to moist, sometimes saline to saline-sodic, medium to fine textured soils in the Great Plains, Southwest, and Intermountain regions of the western United States. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

More info for the terms: cool-season, tiller

Western wheatgrass is a long-lived, native perennial, cool-season, endomycorrhizal grass [114,115]. It is an aggressive sod-forming grass characterized by an abundance of long, branched rhizomes [10,27]. Rhizomes allow plants to survive moderately severe drought [152]. The erect culms reach 12 to 36 inches (30-90 cm) in height [130].

Rhizomes lie 0.5 to 2 inches (1.3-5 cm) below the soil surface. The highly branched root system may penetrate the soil to a depth of 7 feet (21 m). In the deep rich soils of eastern Nebraska and Kansas, roots may extend as deep as 11.8 feet (3.6 m). Root extensions in more arid eastern Colorado may extend downward to depths of only 4.9 feet (1.5 m) [34]. In dry grasslands of Montana, only 6% of the roots of western wheatgrass were observed in the top 0 to 0.5 inch (0-1 cm) soil layer.

Longevity of western wheatgrass roots was studied by banding roots of plants grown in containers from seed. In the second year 55 and 60% of the banded roots were dead. By the end of the second summer western wheatgrass roots had a survival of 42% [154]. Zhang and Romo [174] report tiller longevity of 2 to 3 years in Saskatchewan.

  • 34. Coupland, Robert T.; Johnson, R. E. 1965. Rooting characteristics of native grassland species of Saskatchewan. Journal of Ecology. 53: 475-507. [702]
  • 10. Barker, R. E.; Holzworth, L. K.; Asay, K. H. 1985. Genetic resources of wheatgrass and wildrye species native to the rangelands of western North America. In: Carlson, Jack R.; Mcarthur, E. Durant, chairmen. Range plant improvement in western North America: Proceedings of a symposium at the annual meeting of the Society for Range Management; 1985 February 14; Salt Lake City, UT. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 9-13. [4381]
  • 27. Bultsma, Paul M.; Haas, Russell J. 1989. Grass varieties for North Dakota. R-794 (Revised). Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University, North Dakota State University Extension Service. 7 p. [19474]
  • 114. Plummer, A. Perry. 1976. Shrubs for the subalpine zone of the Wasatch Plateau. In: Zuck, R. H.; Brown, L. F., eds. High altitude revegetation workshop: No. 2: Proceedings; 1976; Fort Collins, CO. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University: 33-40. [1899]
  • 115. Quinnild, Clayton L.; Cosby, Hugh E. 1958. Relicts of climax vegetation on two mesas in western North Dakota. Ecology. 39(1): 29-32. [1925]
  • 152. Wasser, Clinton H. 1982. Ecology and culture of selected species useful in revegetating disturbed lands in the West. FWS/OBS-82/56. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Western Energy and Land Use Team. 347 p. Available from NTIS, Springfield, VA 22161; PB-83-167023. [2458]
  • 154. Weaver, J. E.; Zink, Ellen. 1946. Length of life of roots of ten species of perennial range and pasture grasses. Plant Physiology. 21: 201-217. [2465]
  • 174. Zhang, Jun; Romo, James T. 1995. Impacts of defoliation on tiller production and survival in northern wheatgrass. Journal of Range Management. 48(2): 115-120. [27146]
  • 130. Sharp Bros. Seed Co. [n.d.]. Western wheatgrass. Fact Sheet. Amarillo, TX: Sharp Bros. Seed Co. 2 . [18005]

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Physical Description

Perennials, Terrestrial, not aquatic, Rhizomes present, Rhizome elongate, creeping, stems distant, Stems nodes swollen or brittle, Stems erect or ascending, Stems caespitose, tufted, or clustered, Stems terete, round in cross section, or polygonal, Stem internodes hollow, Stems with inflorescence less than 1 m tall, Stems, culms, or scapes exceeding basal leaves, Leaves mostly cauline, Leaves conspicuously 2-ranked, distichous, Leaves sheathing at base, Leaf sheath mostly open, or loose, Leaf sheath smooth, glabrous, Leaf sheath hairy, hispid or prickly, Leaf sheath and blade differentiated, Leaf blades linear, Leaf blades 2-10 mm wide, Leaf blades mostly flat, Leaf blade margins folded, involute, or conduplicate, Leaf blades mostly glabrous, Leaf blades scabrous, roughened, or wrinkled, Ligule present, Ligule an unfringed eciliate membrane, Inflorescence terminal, Inflorescence a dense slender spike-like panicle or raceme, branches contracted, Inflorescence solitary, with 1 spike, fascicle, glomerule, head, or cluster per stem or culm, Inflorescence single raceme, fascicle or spike, Inflorescence spikelets arranged in a terminal bilateral spike, Flowers bisexual, Spikelets pedicellate, Spikelets sessile or subsessile, Spikelets laterally compressed, Spikelet less than 3 mm wide, Spikelets with 3-7 florets, Spikelets with 8-40 florets, Spikelets solitary at rachis nodes, Spikelets paired at rachis nodes, Spikelets all alike and fertille, Spikelets bisexual, Spikelets disarticulating above the glumes, glumes persistent, Rachilla or pedicel glabrous, Glumes present, empty bracts, Glumes 2 clearly present, Glumes equal or subequal, Glumes equal to or longer than adjacent lemma, Glumes displaced, side by side, Glumes 3 nerved, Glumes 4-7 nerved, Lemma similar in texture to glumes, Lemma 5-7 nerved, Lemma glabrous , Lemma body or surface hairy, Lemma apex acute or acuminate, Lemma awnless, Lemma mucronate, very shortly beaked or awned, less than 1-2 mm, Lemma with 1 awn, Lemma awn less than 1 cm long, Lemma awned from tip, Lemma margins thin, lying flat, Lemma straight, Callus or base of lemma evidently hairy, Callus hairs shorter than lemma, Palea present, well developed, Palea membranous, hyaline, Palea about equal to lemma, Stamens 3, Styles 2-fid, deeply 2-branched, Stigmas 2, Fruit - caryopsis, Caryopsis ellipsoid, longitudinally grooved, hilum long-linear, Caryopsis hairy at apex.
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Type Information

Syntype for Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.
Catalog Number: US 1016313
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. T. Rothrock
Year Collected: 1874
Locality: Aqua Azule, New Mexico, United States, North America
Elevation (m): 1981
  • Syntype: Scribner, F. L. & Smith, J. G. 1897. U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 4: 33.
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Syntype for Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.
Catalog Number: US 556667
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): E. Palmer
Year Collected: 1869
Locality: Arizona, United States, North America
  • Syntype: Scribner, F. L. & Smith, J. G. 1897. U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 4: 33.
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Syntype for Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.
Catalog Number: US 1016307
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. Lemmon
Year Collected: 1884
Locality: San Francisco Mountains, Prairie Dog Valley, Arizona, United States, North America
  • Syntype: Scribner, F. L. & Smith, J. G. 1897. U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 4: 33.
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Syntype for Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.
Catalog Number: US 1016315
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. T. Rothrock
Year Collected: 1874
Locality: Santa Fe., New Mexico, United States, North America
  • Syntype: Scribner, F. L. & Smith, J. G. 1897. U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 4: 33.
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Syntype for Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.
Catalog Number: US 556666
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): E. Palmer
Year Collected: 1890
Locality: Willow Spring, Apache, Arizona, United States, North America
  • Syntype: Scribner, F. L. & Smith, J. G. 1897. U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 4: 33.
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Syntype for Agropyron spicatum var. palmeri Scribn. & J.G. Sm.
Catalog Number: US 820180
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Sex/Stage: ; Flowering and Fruiting
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): E. Palmer
Year Collected: 1890
Locality: Willow Spring, Coconino, Arizona, United States, North America
  • Syntype: Scribner, F. L. & Smith, J. G. 1897. U.S.D.A. Div. Agrostol. Bull. 4: 33.
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Isotype for Agropyron spicatum var. viride Farw.
Catalog Number: US 1015991
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): O. A. Farwell
Year Collected: 1899
Locality: Detroit., Wayne, Michigan, United States, North America
  • Isotype: Farwell, O. A. 1920. Annual Rep. Michigan Acad. Sci. 21: 356.
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Pascopyrum smithii grows in sagebrush deserts and mesic alkaline meadows (FNA 2007). Also occuring in dry prairies, along railroads, roads, and waste ground.

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Habitat characteristics

More info for the term: mesic

Western wheatgrass is drought tolerant, and established stands can survive even extended periods of drought [27,68,130]. It commonly occurs along ephemeral creeks where it grows through thick layers of silt in areas that flood in spring [9,68]. It also grows on well-drained upland sites [130]. Western wheatgrass grows in mesic areas, swales, overflow sites, and subirrigated lowlands. Western wheatgrass is tolerant of periodic flooding, poor drainage, and water tables within 6 inches (15 cm) of the soil surface [27].

Western wheatgrass commonly grows on medium to heavy textured soils [27]. It can grow on even heavy gumbo soils, but does poorly on sand [9,130]. In parts of Colorado, western wheatgrass grows on clayey soils with an average pH of 7.78 [9].Western wheatgrass is highly tolerant of saline to alkali soils [27]. Western wheatgrass is adapted to areas that receive 14 to 35 inches (360-870 mm) of average annual precipitation [130].

Elevational ranges vary as follows [45]:

3,600 to 10,000 feet (1098-3049 m) in Colorado 2,400 to 3,600 feet (732-1098 m) in Montana 4,200 to 7,500 feet (1280-2677 m) in Utah 3,400 to 8,200 feet (1037-2500 m) in Wyoming
  • 9. Baker, William L.; Kennedy, Susan C. 1985. Presettlement vegetation of part of northwestern Moffat County, Colorado, described from remnants. The Great Basin Naturalist. 45(4): 747-783. [384]
  • 27. Bultsma, Paul M.; Haas, Russell J. 1989. Grass varieties for North Dakota. R-794 (Revised). Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University, North Dakota State University Extension Service. 7 p. [19474]
  • 45. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 68. Hafenrichter, A. L.; Schwendiman, John L.; Harris, Harold L.; [and others]. 1968. Grasses and legumes for soil conservation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin states. Agric. Handb. 339. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 69 p. [18604]
  • 130. Sharp Bros. Seed Co. [n.d.]. Western wheatgrass. Fact Sheet. Amarillo, TX: Sharp Bros. Seed Co. 2 . [18005]

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Key Plant Community Associations

More info for the terms: codominant, shrubs

Western wheatgrass
grows in grasslands and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) deserts; it commonly grows in
pure stands, but more often grows mixed with other grasses
[78,119,130,145,150]. It is
often the dominant grass in mixed-grass prairie
communities [10].



Western wheatgrass is a codominant or indicator in many habitat types in
sagebrush-grassland, pinyon-juniper (Pinus ssp.)-(Juniperus ssp.),
and Rocky mountain juniper (J. scopulorum) types [81,102]. It
is of major importance in the central and northern Great Plains
grassland where it is commonly associated with blue grama (Bouteloua
gracilis), sideoats grama (B. curtipendula), alkali
sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), buffalo grass (Buchloe
dactyloides), prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha),
needle and thread grass (Hesperostipa comata),
green needlegrass (Nassella viridula), and little bluestem
(Schizachyrium scoparium) [11].



Western wheatgrass occurs with a number of shrubs including big
sagebrush (A. tridentata), bitterbrush
(Purshia tridentata), and
broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) [1].
On the sagebrush rangeland of the Intermountain area, western wheatgrass
is often mixed with bluebunch wheatgrass
(Pseudoroegneria spicata) and thickspike
wheatgrass [25]. In northern
mixed-grass prairies, western wheatgrass occurs as a
dominant with needle-and-thread grass, blue grama, and
bluestems [49,52]. Publications using western
wheatgrass in vegetation classifications are listed below:

Vegetation and soils of the Crane Springs Watershed [20]

Vegetation and soils of the Rock Springs Watershed [21]

Phyto-edaphic communities of the Upper Rio Puerco Watershed, New Mexico
[55]

The vegetation of the Grand River/Cedar River, Sioux, and Ashland
Districts of the Custer National Forest: a habitat type classification
[71]

Preliminary habitat types of a semiarid grassland [56]

The vegetation of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota: a
habitat type classification [72]

Classification and management of riparian and wetland sites in central
and eastern Montana [73]

Range plant communities of the Central Grasslands Research Station
in south central North Dakota [101]

Grassland and shrubland habitat types of western Montana [110]

Shrub-steppe habitat types of Middle Park, Colorado [140]

Grassland and shrubland habitat types of the Shoshone National
Forest [144]

Analysis of grassland vegetation on selected key areas in southwestern
North Dakota [166]

Grassland types of south central Montana [171]

  • 1. Aldon, Earl F.; Scholl, David G.; Fresquez, P. R.; Francis, Richard E. 1988. Natural production potential of some Rio Puerco soils in New Mexico. Res. Note RM-481. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 4 p. [3042]
  • 10. Barker, R. E.; Holzworth, L. K.; Asay, K. H. 1985. Genetic resources of wheatgrass and wildrye species native to the rangelands of western North America. In: Carlson, Jack R.; Mcarthur, E. Durant, chairmen. Range plant improvement in western North America: Proceedings of a symposium at the annual meeting of the Society for Range Management; 1985 February 14; Salt Lake City, UT. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 9-13. [4381]
  • 11. Barker, William T.; Whitman, Warren C. 1988. Vegetation of the Northern Great Plains. Rangelands. 10(6): 266-272. [5901]
  • 20. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1969. Vegetation and soils of the Crane Springs Watershed. R-55. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 65 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Burearu of Land Management. [456]
  • 21. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1971. Vegetation and soils of the Rock Springs Watershed. R-83. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 116 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. [457]
  • 25. Branson, Farrel A. 1953. Two new factors affecting resistance of grasses to grazing. Journal of Range Management. 6: 167-171. [508]
  • 49. Epstein, H. E.; Lauenroth, W. K.; Burke, I. C.; Coffin, D. P. 1996. Ecological responses of dominant grasses along two climatic gradients in the Great Plains of the United States. Journal of Vegetation Science. 7(6): 777-788. [29847]
  • 52. Faanes, Craig A. 1987. Breeding birds and vegetation structure in western North Dakota wooded draws. Prairie Naturalist. 19(4): 209-220. [9764]
  • 55. Francis, Richard E. 1986. Phyto-edaphic communities of the Upper Rio Puerco Watershed, New Mexico. Res. Pap. RM-272. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 73 p. [954]
  • 56. Francis, Richard E.; Aldon, Earl F. 1983. Preliminary habitat types of a semiarid grassland. In: Moir, W. H.; Hendzel, Leonard, tech. coords. Proceedings of the workshop on Southwestern habitat types; 1983 April 6-8; Albuquerque, NM. Albuquerque, NM: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southwestern Region: 62-66. [956]
  • 71. Hansen, Paul L.; Hoffman, George R. 1988. The vegetation of the Grand River/Cedar River, Sioux, and Ashland Districts of the Custer National Forest: a habitat type classification. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-157. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 68 p. [771]
  • 72. Hansen, Paul L.; Hoffman, George R.; Bjugstad, Ardell J. 1984. The vegetation of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota: a habitat type classification. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-113. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 35 p. [1077]
  • 73. Hansen, Paul; Boggs, Keith; Pfister, Robert; Joy, John. 1990. Classification and management of riparian and wetland sites in central and eastern Montana. Missoula, MT: University of Montana, School of Forestry, Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station, Montana Riparian Association. 279 p. [12477]
  • 78. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur; Ownbey, Marion. 1969. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 1: Vascular cryptograms, gymnosperms, and monocotyledons. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 914 p. [1169]
  • 81. Hopkins, Rick B.; Cassel, J. Frank; Bjugstad, Ardell J. 1986. Relationships between breeding birds and vegetation in four woodland types of the Little Missouri National Grasslands. Res. Pap. RM-270. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 12 p. [2758]
  • 101. Lura, Charles L.; Barker, William T.; Nyren, Paul E. 1988. Range plant communities of the Central Grasslands Research Station in south central North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist. 20(4): 177-192. [7224]
  • 102. Lymbery, Gordon A.; Pieper, Rex D. 1983. Ecology of pinyon-juniper vegetation in the northern Sacramento Mountains. Bulletin 698. Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University, Agricultural Experiment Station. 48 p. [4484]
  • 110. Mueggler, W. F.; Stewart, W. L. 1980. Grassland and shrubland habitat types of western Montana. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-66. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 154 p. [1717]
  • 119. Reitz, Louis P.; Morris, H. E. 1939. Important grasses and other common plants on Montana ranges: description, distribution and relative value. Bull. 375. Bozeman, MT: Montana State College, Agricultural Experiment Station. 35 p. [1954]
  • 140. Tiedeman, James A.; Francis, Richard E.; Terwilliger, Charles, Jr.; Carpenter, Len H. 1987. Shrub-steppe habitat types of Middle Park, Colorado. Res. Pap. RM-273. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 20 p. [2329]
  • 144. Tweit, Susan J.; Houston, Kent E. 1980. Grassland and shrubland habitat types of the Shoshone National Forest. Cody, WY: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Shoshone National Forest. 143 p. [2377]
  • 145. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387]
  • 150. Wambolt, Carl. 1981. Montana range plants: Common and scientific names. Bulletin 355. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University, Cooperative Extension Service. 27 p. [2450]
  • 166. Whitman, Warren C. 1979. Analysis of grassland vegetation on selected key areas in southwestern North Dakota. Final Report on Contract No. 7-01-2. Bismark, ND: Regional Environmental Assessment Program. 199 p. [12529]
  • 171. Wright, John C.; Wright, Elnora A. 1948. Grassland types of south central Montana. Ecology. 29(4): 449-460. [2627]
  • 130. Sharp Bros. Seed Co. [n.d.]. Western wheatgrass. Fact Sheet. Amarillo, TX: Sharp Bros. Seed Co. 2 . [18005]

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Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

More info for the term: vine

303 Bunchgrass wheatgrass-western wheatgrass

309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass

310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama

314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass

401 Basin sagebrush

402 Mountain big sagebrush

403 Wyoming big sagebrush

412 Juniper-pinyon woodland

504 Juniper-pinyon woodlands

601 Bluestem prairie

602 Bluestem-prairie sandreed

604 Bluestem-grama prairie

606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass

607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass

608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass

609 Wheatgrass grama

610 Wheatgrass

611 Blue grama-buffalograss

612 Sagebrush-grass

613 Fescue grassland

615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama

704 Blue grama-western wheatgrass

705 Blue grama-galleta

710 Bluestem prairie

711 Bluestem-sachuista prairie

712 Galleta-alkali sacaton

715 Grama-buffalograss

722 Sand sagebrush-mixed prairie

725 Vine mesquite-alkali sacaton

727 Mesquite-buffalograss

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Habitat: Plant Associations

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This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

K011 Western ponderosa forest

K012 Douglas-fir forest

K015 Western spruce-fir forest

K016 Eastern ponderosa forest

K017 Black Hills pine forest

K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest

K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest

K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland

K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub

K038 Great Basin sagebrush

K040 Saltbush-greasewood

K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass

K053 Grama-galleta steppe

K055 Sagebrush steppe

K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe

K063 Foothills prairie

K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass

K065 Grama-buffalograss

K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass

K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass

K074 Bluestem prairie

K081 Oak savanna

K098 Northern floodplain forest

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Habitat: Ecosystem

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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):

FRES15 Oak-hickory

FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood

FRES20 Douglas-fir

FRES21 Ponderosa pine

FRES23 Fir-spruce

FRES26 Lodgepole pine

FRES29 Sagebrush

FRES30 Desert shrub

FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub

FRES35 Pinyon-juniper

FRES36 Mountain grasslands

FRES38 Plains grasslands

FRES39 Prairie

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Habitat: Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

219 Limber pine

220 Rocky Mountain juniper

237 Interior ponderosa pine

238 Western juniper

239 Juniper-pinyon

256 California mixed subalpine

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Dispersal

Establishment

Adaptation: Western wheatgrass is similar to thickspike and streambank wheatgrasses in appearance. However, it is coarser, its rhizomatous trait is more aggressive, and its coloration is blue-green rather than green. It is not as drought tolerant as thickspike or streambank wheatgrass. In comparison to thickspike and streambank wheatgrasses, it greens up and heads out later and total biomass production is generally higher. Thickspike and streambank wheatgrasses do better on medium to coarse textured soils. Streambank wheatgrass can be found on slightly heavy to medium to coarse textured soils. Western wheatgrass may be a better choice on heavy textured soils if rainfall is high enough. Western wheatgrass tolerates saline and saline-sodic soil conditions, poor drainage, and moderately severe drought. It will tolerate spring flooding, high watertables, and considerable silt deposition. It is very cold tolerant, moderately shade tolerant, and tolerant of fire if in the dormant stage. Recovery from fire however, is slow. It will not tolerate long periods of inundation.

On native sites western wheatgrass is most abundant in the 10 to 20 inch annual precipitation zones. Seeded varieties do best with 12 to 20 inches of precipitation. The natural geographic range of western wheatgrass is from southern Ontario and northern Minnesota, west to British Columbia, and south to west central California and western Texas from 1000 to 9000 feet elevation. Western wheatgrass is a component of many native plant communities and grows in association with blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides), needlegrasses (Stipa spp.), bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata), rough fescue (Festuca scabra), Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis), prairie junegrass (Koeleria cristata), and basin wildrye (Elymus cinereus).

Planting: Seed of western wheatgrass should be seeded with a drill at a depth of ¾ to ½ inch or less on medium to fine textured soils. Single species seeding rates recommended for western wheatgrass is 6 to 12 pounds Pure Live Seed (PLS) or 13 to 26 PLS per square foot. If used as a component of a mix, adjust to percent of mix desired. For mined lands and other harsh critical areas, the seeding rate should be increased to 18 to 23 pounds PLS or 40 to 50 PLS per square foot. Mulching and light irrigations are beneficial for stand establishment.

The best seeding results are obtained from seeding in very early spring on heavy to medium textured soils or in late fall on medium to light textured soils. Late summer (August - mid September) seedings are not recommended unless irrigation is available. It can also be established using sod. Seedling vigor is poor to fair; stands are generally slow to develop and may be non-existent the establishment year. However, over 50 percent stands are typically achieved by the end of the fourth growing season. Poor germination accounts for the poor initial establishment and strong rhizome spread accounts for stand development in later years.

It is moderately compatible with other species and can be used in seeding mixtures. It should not be seeded with strongly competitive introduced species. Under favorable conditions it can become a good weed barrier.

Stands may require weed control measures during establishment, but application of 2,4-D should not be made until plants have reached the four to six leaf stage. Mow when weeds are beginning to bloom to reduce seed development. Grasshoppers and other insects may also damage new stands and use of pesticides may be required.

Public Domain

USDA NRCS Idaho State Office & the National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Associations

Known predators

Pascopyrum smithii (western wheatgrass (grass)) is prey of:
Bos taurus
Lepus californicus
Lepus townsendii
Orthoptera
Hemiptera
Auchenorrhyncha
Sternorrhyncha
Thysanoptera
Geomyidae

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.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© SPIRE project

Source: SPIRE

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General Ecology

Plant Response to Fire

More info for the terms: cover, density, frequency

Western wheatgrass cover usually increases or changes little after fire. On sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)-grass ranges western wheatgrass often revegetates rapidly after fire [152]. Recovery occurs within 2 to 5 years in sagebrush and pinyon-juniper zones of the Intermountain region [147,148,161]. In Nevada, western wheatgrass increased in frequency after fire; above ground biomass increased more than 7 times above preburn levels during the 1st postfire season [28]. In sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities of Wyoming, western wheatgrass generally increases after fire [133]. In eastern Montana, western wheatgrass production was unaffected by spring or fall burns [75]. In some instances, vegetative spread of western wheatgrass is enhanced by fire [158].

Variable responses by season of burn have been reported for western wheatgrass. Spring burns often favor western wheatgrass [6] by increasing density during the 1st growing season after fire [60,157]. Although the height of western wheatgrass is reduced by burning at all dates, plants usually increase in abundance and density after spring fire [2,21,36,
  • 2. Alexander, Lynn E.; Uresk, Daniel W.; Hansen, Richard M. 1983. Summer food habits of domestic sheep in southeastern Montana. Journal of Range Management. 36(3): 307-308. [6003]
  • 6. Anderson, Howard G.; Bailey, Arthur W. 1980. Effects of annual burning on grassland in the aspen parkland of east-central Alberta. Canadian Journal of Botany. 58: 985-996. [3499]
  • 21. Blackburn, Wilbert H.; Eckert, Richard E., Jr.; Tueller, Paul T. 1971. Vegetation and soils of the Rock Springs Watershed. R-83. Reno, NV: University of Nevada, Agricultural Experiment Station. 116 p. In cooperation with: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. [457]
  • 28. Bushey, Charles L. 1987. Short-term vegetative response to prescribed burning in the sagebrush/grass ecosystem of the northern Great Basin; three years of postburn data from the demonstration of prescribed burning on selected Bureau of Land Management districts. Final Report. Cooperative Agreement 22-C-4-INT-33. Missoula, MT: Systems for Environmental Management. 77 p. [568]
  • 36. Day, A. D.; Ludeke, K. L. 1986. Reclamation and fertilization of coal mine soils in the Southwestern desert. Desert Plants. 8(1): 20-22. [3457]
  • 60. Gartner, F. R.; White, E. M.; Butterfield, R. I. 1986. Mechanical treatment and burning for high quality range forage. Beef Report: Cattle 86-29. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University, Department of Animal and Range Sciences and Plant Science; Agriculture Experiment Station: 135-140. [22514]
  • 75. Higgins, Kenneth F.; Kruse, Arnold D.; Piehl, James L. 1989. Effects of fire in the Northern Great Plains. Ext. Circ. EC-761. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University, Cooperative Extension Service, South Dakota Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. 47 p. [14749]
  • 133. Smith, Michael A. 1985. Prescribed burning of big sagebrush in Wyoming. In: Fisser, Herbert G., ed. Wyoming shrublands: Proceedings, 14th Wyoming shrub ecology workshop; 1985 May 29-30; Rock Springs, WY. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming, Department of Range Management, Wyoming Shrub Ecology Workshop: 41-45. [13910]
  • 147. Vallentine, John F. 1971. Range development and improvements. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press. 516 p. [2414]
  • 148. Volland, Leonard A.; Dell, John D. 1981. Fire effects on Pacific Northwest forest and range vegetation. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Range Management and Aviation and Fire Management. 23 p. [2434]
  • 152. Wasser, Clinton H. 1982. Ecology and culture of selected species useful in revegetating disturbed lands in the West. FWS/OBS-82/56. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Western Energy and Land Use Team. 347 p. Available from NTIS, Springfield, VA 22161; PB-83-167023. [2458]
  • 157. Whisenant, Steven G. 1985. Effects of fire and/or atrazine on Japanese brome and western wheatgrass. Proceedings, Western Society for Weed Science. 38: 169-176. [3807]
  • 161. White, Larry M.; Newbauer, John J., III; Wight, J. Ross. 1978. Vegetational differences on native range during 38 years in eastern Montana. In: Hyder, Donald N., ed. Proceedings, 1st International Rangeland Congress; 1978 August 14-18; Denver, CO. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 260-262. [2535]
  • 158. Whisenant, Steven G.; Uresk, Dan W. [n.d.]. Effects of fire on vital attributes of a South Dakota, mixed prairie. Draft manuscript. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. 23 p. [17135]

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Immediate Effect of Fire

Western wheatgrass is generally unharmed by fire. Smith and Busby [134] report that it is "slightly damaged" by fire in Wyoming. Rhizomes may be damaged but are generally not killed by fire.
  • 134. Smith, Michael A.; Busby, Fee. 1981. Prescribed burning: effective control of sagebrush in Wyoming. RJ-165. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming, Agricultural Experiment Station. 12 p. [2175]

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Post-fire Regeneration

More info for the term: rhizome

Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil

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Fire Ecology

The major adaptation of western wheatgrass to fire is its rhizomatous growth form [151]. Western wheatgrass is characterized by loosely clustered, coarse culms with a minimum of leafy material. During a fire these culms usually burn rapidly with little heat transferred downward into meristematic tissue.

Fire did not alter species composition after fire in a South Dakota mixed-grass prairie community containing western wheatgrass [158]. This may not be true of all communities in which western wheatgrass occurs. To learn more about the FIRE REGIMES in specific communities in which western wheatgrass occurs, refer to the FEIS summary for those species, under "Fire Ecology or Adaptations."

  • 151. Wangberg, James K. 1984. Mechanisms of host plant selection by the cactus bug. In: Britton, Carlton M.; Smith, Loren M., eds. Research highlights--1984 noxious brush and weed control; range and wildlife management. Vol. 15. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University: 33-34. [2451]
  • 158. Whisenant, Steven G.; Uresk, Dan W. [n.d.]. Effects of fire on vital attributes of a South Dakota, mixed prairie. Draft manuscript. On file with: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT. 23 p. [17135]

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Successional Status

More info on this topic.

More info for the terms: climax, forbs, succession

Western wheatgrass occurs in all seres. It is however, frequently described as a "late successional species" [89,127]. It is present in many climax plant communities [115]. Western wheatgrass increases during secondary succession. Its ability to rapidly reestablish after disturbance is attributed to its rhizomatous growth habit [123]. Samuel and Hart [124] report that it typically appears much earlier and in much greater abundance than other long-lived perennial grasses on disturbed sites in Wyoming.

Western wheatgrass grows in a variety of successional stages in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities. It has been described as a "mid-seral species" in semi-arid sagebrush communities of northwestern Colorado. In these sagebrush communities, annual forbs dominate disturbed sites for the first 2 years after disturbance. By year 3, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) typically becomes dominant and perennial grasses such as western wheatgrass become dominant by the 4th year after disturbance [104]. In big sagebrush communities, western wheatgrass may among the earliest species to become prominent following disturbance [19]. In Wyoming big sagebrush communities, western wheatgrass dominates "late intermediate seral stages" in steppe communities [16]. It replaces blue grama in "early intermediate seral stages" and is replaced by big sagebrush later in succession.

Western wheatgrass is common on disturbed sites (abandoned towns) in parts of southwestern Montana [92]. During the drought of the 1930s, western wheatgrass supplanted tall grasses over much of the eastern Kansas prairie [113]. Grasses reverted to the original composition as more "normal" (more moist) conditions returned.

In certain Montana riparian communities, years of heavy grazing can cause cottonwood stands to be replaced by shrub/grass communities dominated by silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana), greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), and western wheatgrass [70].

  • 16. Benkobi, Lakhdar; Uresk, Daniel W. 1996. Seral stage classification and montioring model for big sagebrush/western wheatgrass/blue grama habitat. In: Barrow, Jerry R.; McArthur, E. Durant; Sosebee, Ronald E.; Tausch, Robin J., compilers. Proceedings: shrubland ecosystem dynamics in a changing environment; 1995 May 23-25; Las Cruces, NM. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-338. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 69-73. [27033]
  • 19. Biondini, Mario E.; Bonham, Charles D.; Redente, Edward F. 1985. Secondary successional patterns in a sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) community as they relate to disturbance and soil biological activity. Vegetatio. 60: 25-36. [448]
  • 89. Klein, D. A.; Frederick, B. A.; Redente, E. F. 1989. Fertilizer effects on soil microbial communities and organic matter in the rhizosphere of Sitanion hystrix and Agropyron smithii. Arid Soil Research and Rehabilitation. 3: 397-404. [11097]
  • 92. Knapp, Paul A. 1991. The response of semi-arid vegetation assemblages following the abandonment of mining towns in south-western Montana. Journal of Arid Environments. 20: 205-222. [14894]
  • 104. McLendon, Terry; Redente, Edward F. 1992. Effects of nitrogen limitation on species replacement dynamics during early secondary succession on a semiarid sagebrush site. Oecologia. 91: 312-317. [24487]
  • 113. Piper, Jon K. 1995. Composition of prairie plant communities on productive versus unproductive sites in wet and dry years. Canadian Journal of Botany. 73: 1635-1644. [26658]
  • 115. Quinnild, Clayton L.; Cosby, Hugh E. 1958. Relicts of climax vegetation on two mesas in western North Dakota. Ecology. 39(1): 29-32. [1925]
  • 123. Samuel, Marilyn J.; Hart, Richard H. 1992. Survival and growth of blue grama seedlings in competition with western wheatgrass. Journal of Range Management. 45: 444-448. [19429]
  • 124. Samuel, Marilyn J.; Hart, Richard H. 1994. Sixty-one years of secondary succession on rangelands of the Wyoming High Plains. Journal of Range Management. 47: 184-191. [23026]
  • 127. Schmidt, S. K.; Reeves, F. B. 1989. Interference between Salsola kali L. seedlings: implications for plant succession. Plant and Soil. 116: 107-110. [9300]
  • 70. Hansen, Paul L.; Boggs, Keith; Pfister, Robert D.; [and others]. 1994. Classification and management of riparian and wetland sites in Montana. In: Hamre, R. H., ed. Workshop on western wetlands and riparian areas: public/private efforts in recovery, management, and education: Proceedings; 1993 September 9-11; Snowbird, UT. Boulder, CO: Thorne Ecological Institute: 1-17. [27800]

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Regeneration Processes

Western wheatgrass regenerates vegetatively through rhizomes to form uniform stands [68]. It also spreads via seeds. A limited seed supply usually matures late, but this is offset by reproduction from rootstocks [150]. Stands are slow to develop from seed [27], but once established are vigorous, hardy, and drought resistant. Seeds germinate slowly, but a fairly uniform sod is usually obtained within 2-3 years [10].

Western wheatgrass exhibits a low and much-delayed germination at 66 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit (19-2 oC) [26,114,145]. Germination is most successful with alternating temperatures of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 oC) and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 oC) [39]. Light does not affect germination [122,141].

Peak germination response for western wheatgrass was 94% at 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.5 oC) for 8 hours and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 oC) for 16 hours. The mean germination time was 11.8 days. In constant temperature without light, germination percentages decrease [93,122].

  • 26. Brown, Darrell; Hallman, Richard G. 1984. Reclaiming disturbed lands. 1454.1--Technical Services, Range. Missoula, MT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Equipment Development Center. 91 p. [533]
  • 10. Barker, R. E.; Holzworth, L. K.; Asay, K. H. 1985. Genetic resources of wheatgrass and wildrye species native to the rangelands of western North America. In: Carlson, Jack R.; Mcarthur, E. Durant, chairmen. Range plant improvement in western North America: Proceedings of a symposium at the annual meeting of the Society for Range Management; 1985 February 14; Salt Lake City, UT. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 9-13. [4381]
  • 27. Bultsma, Paul M.; Haas, Russell J. 1989. Grass varieties for North Dakota. R-794 (Revised). Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University, North Dakota State University Extension Service. 7 p. [19474]
  • 39. Delouche, James C.; Bass, Louis N. 1954. Effect of light and darkness upon the germination of seeds of western wheatgrass, Agropyron smithii L. Association of Official Seed Analysts. 44: 104-113. [2696]
  • 93. Knipe, O. D. 1973. Western wheatgrass germination as related to temperature, light, and moisture stress. Journal of Range Management. 26(1): 68-70. [4078]
  • 114. Plummer, A. Perry. 1976. Shrubs for the subalpine zone of the Wasatch Plateau. In: Zuck, R. H.; Brown, L. F., eds. High altitude revegetation workshop: No. 2: Proceedings; 1976; Fort Collins, CO. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University: 33-40. [1899]
  • 122. Sabo, David G.; Johnson, Gordon V.; Martin, William C.; Aldon, Earl F. 1979. Germination requirements of 19 species of arid land plants. Res. Pap. RM-210. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 26 p. [2047]
  • 141. Toole, Vivian K. 1976. Light and temperature control of germination in Agropyron smithii seeds. Plant & Cell Physiology. 17: 1263-1272. [95]
  • 145. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387]
  • 150. Wambolt, Carl. 1981. Montana range plants: Common and scientific names. Bulletin 355. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University, Cooperative Extension Service. 27 p. [2450]
  • 68. Hafenrichter, A. L.; Schwendiman, John L.; Harris, Harold L.; [and others]. 1968. Grasses and legumes for soil conservation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin states. Agric. Handb. 339. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 69 p. [18604]

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Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)

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More info for the term: geophyte

Geophyte

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Life Form

More info for the term: graminoid

graminoid

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Phenology

More info on this topic.

More info for the term: phenology

Western wheatgrass produces best growth in spring. Flowering occurs in June, and seeds ripen in August or September [150]. In South Dakota, vegetative growth typically begins in early June, flowering begins by mid to late June, and seeds shatter by mid-August [85]. Flowering dates by state are as follows [45]: State Earliest date observed Latest date observed CO June August MT June August ND June July WY June August A representative phenology for a population of western wheatgrass from the northern Great Plains is as follows [143]: Dormancy 5-20 November Early growth 15-20 April Rapid growth 1-10 June Boot stage 1-15 August A western Wyoming study of phenological development of western wheatgrass from 1973 to 1975 showed that "normal" seed dissemination was difficult to predict as inflorescences appearing in July did not necessarily produce viable seed. Seed may not shatter until late fall or early the following summer [90]. Phenology Range Average Growth initiation March 5-April 26 March 15 Full bloom June 20-July 20 July 10 Start of seed July 25-November 20 August 15 dissemination

In northeastern Colorado, the following phenological development was observed [44]:

Floral buds and open flowers Early June Floral buds, open flowers and ripening fruit Mid-June Buds, flowers, green and ripe fruit Early June Bud, flowers, green, ripe fruit and dispersing seed End of July-Early August Green and ripe fruit, dispersing seed and senescence Early October In a 2nd Colorado study, seasonal growth was initiated by the 2nd or 3rd week of April and flowering began by the 1st week of June, with maximum flowering by the 3rd week of June. Maximum rate of leaf area increase occurred from late May through June [109]. In Texas, western wheatgrass generally begins fall growth by September. The short growing period in the fall is followed by peak growth in late spring (April) when maximum leaf widths are reached. Plants did not grow during winter, even under irrigation [129].

The growth and phenological stages of western wheatgrass plants are inversely related to carbohydrate reserve storage. Lowest root and crown total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC) levels are reached during the 3rd leaf stage in April. The highest TNC levels occur during the 5th leaf stage in late June and at the end of the growing season, fall quiescence [106]. Seed maturity occurs when water concentrations reach approximately 300 to 350 g/kg (dry weight basis) [17]

  • 17. Berdahl, John D.; Frank, Albert B. 1998. Seed maturity in four cool-season forage grasses. Agronomy Journal. 90(4): 483-488. [29162]
  • 44. Dickinson, C. E.; Dodd, Jerrold L. 1976. Phenological pattern in the shortgrass prairie. The American Midland Naturalist. 96(2): 367-378. [799]
  • 45. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 85. Kamstra, L. D. 1973. Seasonal changes in quality of some important range grasses. Journal of Range Management. 26: 289-291. [5739]
  • 90. Kleinman, Larry H. 1976. Phenodynamics and ecology of sagebrush-grass rangelands. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 143 p. Dissertation. [1350]
  • 106. Menke, John W.; Trlica, M. J. 1981. Carbohydrate reserve, phenology, and growth cycles of nine Colorado range species. Journal of Range Management. 34(4): 269-277. [1639]
  • 109. Monson, Russell K.; Sackschewsky, Michael R.; Williams, George J.,III. 1986. Field measurements of photosynthesis, water-use efficiency, and growth in Agropyron smithii(C3) and Bouteloua gracilis (C4) in the Colorado shortgrass steppe. Oecologia. 68: 400-409. [4512]
  • 129. Schuster, J. L.; De Leon Garcia, Ricardo C. 1973. Phenology and forage production of cool season grasses in the Southern Plains. Journal of Range Management. 26(5): 336-339. [3912]
  • 143. Trlica, M. J.; Buwai, M.; Menke, J. W. 1977. Effects of rest following defoliations on the recovery of several range species. Journal of Range Management. 30(1): 21-27. [2360]
  • 150. Wambolt, Carl. 1981. Montana range plants: Common and scientific names. Bulletin 355. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University, Cooperative Extension Service. 27 p. [2450]

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Life Cycle

Persistence: PERENNIAL, Long-lived

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Reproduction

Reproduces by seed and through rhizomatous growth (Tirmenstein 1999).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pascopyrum smithii

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Reasons: Widespread, common in Great Plains.

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Status

This is a native species. Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status and wetland indicator values.

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USDA NRCS Idaho State Office & the National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Management

Management considerations

More info for the terms: cover, density, frequency

Western wheatgrass can tolerate moderate grazing but is damaged
by close spring grazing [152]. Heavy grazing "may be tolerated, but
production will be lowered considerably by this practice" [130].
Western wheatgrass is a decreaser
on upland sites in the Great Plains with less than 20 inches
(500 mm) average annual precipitation. In areas
with over 20 inches, it is an increaser. When western
wheatgrass is mixed with taller or more palatable species, it often
increases. When it is mixed with shorter grasses and warm-season
species, western wheatgrass decreases when grazed early in the spring
[152]. However, Hafenrichter and others [68] report that
continuous early spring grazing of mixed stands can result
in nearly pure stands of western wheatgrass.
Western wheatgrass increases in both density and frequency after
grazing and chaining in pinyon-juniper communities [149].



Western wheatgrass is susceptible to grasshopper damage during
moderate to heavy infestations. In prolonged wet periods, forage
quality is decreased from ergot, as well as leaf and stem rusts [152].



In some instances
large increases in western wheatgrass have been reported after
herbicide application. In a Wyoming study, increases of 260% were
reported within 2 years of herbicide applications, with increases
of 490 to 720% live canopy cover reported during the 7th year
after application [167]. Detailed information on response to various
herbicides is available [114,167].

In North Dakota, western wheatgrass produces approximately
1/3rd of its annual yield prior to May 20th. The
bulk of production occurs from May 20th to June 30th [165].

  • 114. Plummer, A. Perry. 1976. Shrubs for the subalpine zone of the Wasatch Plateau. In: Zuck, R. H.; Brown, L. F., eds. High altitude revegetation workshop: No. 2: Proceedings; 1976; Fort Collins, CO. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University: 33-40. [1899]
  • 149. Walker, Scott C.; Stevens, Richard; Monsen, Stephen B.; Jorgensen, Kent R. 1995. Interaction between native and seeded introduced grasses for 23 years following chaining of juniper-pinyon woodlands. In: Roundy, Bruce A.; McArthur, E. Durant; Halley, Jennifer S.; Mann, David K., compilers. Proceedings: wildland shrub and arid land restoration symposium; 1993 October 19-21; Las Vegas, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-315. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station: 372-380. [24870]
  • 152. Wasser, Clinton H. 1982. Ecology and culture of selected species useful in revegetating disturbed lands in the West. FWS/OBS-82/56. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Western Energy and Land Use Team. 347 p. Available from NTIS, Springfield, VA 22161; PB-83-167023. [2458]
  • 165. Whitman, W. C. 1954. Yield characteristisc of native grass ranges. Proceedings, North Dakota Acadamy of Sciences. 8: 14-19. [5810]
  • 167. Whitson, Thomas D.; Ferrell, Mark A.; Alley, Harold P. 1988. Changes in rangeland canopy cover seven years after tebuthiuron application. Weed Technology. 2: 486-489. [6749]
  • 68. Hafenrichter, A. L.; Schwendiman, John L.; Harris, Harold L.; [and others]. 1968. Grasses and legumes for soil conservation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin states. Agric. Handb. 339. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 69 p. [18604]
  • 130. Sharp Bros. Seed Co. [n.d.]. Western wheatgrass. Fact Sheet. Amarillo, TX: Sharp Bros. Seed Co. 2 . [18005]

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Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)

Foundation and registered seed are available through the appropriate state Crop Improvement Association or commercial sources to grow certified seed.

‘Arriba’ western wheatgrass was released for dryland hay production, grazing, and conservation seedings in the western part of the Central Great Plains and Southwestern United States. It was collected from native plants growing near Flagler, Colorado. Seed is commercially available and the USDA, NRCS Plant Materials Center, Los Lunas, New Mexico maintain Breeder and Foundation seed.

‘Flintlock’ western wheatgrass is a broadbased cultivar derived from seed collections made in Kansas and Nebraska. It is recommended for conservation seeding, dryland hay production, and grazing in the Central Great Plains. Seed is commercially available.

‘Barton’ western wheatgrass was a native collection from clay bottomlands in central Kansas. It is a strongly rhizomatous, leafy accession with intermediate growth between the northern and southern types. Barton is high in forage and seed production. Commercial seed is available. Breeder and Foundation seed is maintained at the USDA, NRCS Plant Materials Center, Manhattan, Kansas.

‘Rosana’ western wheatgrass is a northern type collected in east-central Montana near Forsythe. It was selected for seedling vigor and ease of establishment. Rosana is recommended for reseeding depleted rangelands and the reclamation of disturbed land in the Northern Great Plains and Intermountain regions. Rhizomes produce a tight sod. Seed is commercially available. Breeder and Foundation seed is maintained at the USDA, NRCS Plant Materials Center, Bridger, Montana.

‘Rodan’ western wheatgrass is a northern type originating from seed collected on the Missouri River bottom in central North Dakota. It was selected for drought-tolerance, leafiness, and forage vigor. It is moderately rhizomatous and forms dense swards. Leaves are thinner and less heavily veined than other released cultivars. It was developed by USDA, ARS, Northern Great Plains Research Center, Mandan, North Dakota, in cooperation with USDA, NRCS Plant Materials Center, Bismarck, North Dakota, and the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. Seed is commercially available. Breeder and Foundation seed is maintained at USDA, NRCS Plant Materials Center, Bismarck, North Dakota.

‘Walsh’ western wheatgrass was released by Agriculture Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta. It was selected for rhizome development, freedom from disease, and improved forage and seed yields. It is a northern type originating from seed collected in the Northern Great Plains of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada. Seed is commercially available.

Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”

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Seed production

Seed production of western wheatgrass has been very successful under cultivated conditions. Row spacing of 24 to 36 inches are recommended (although rhizomatous, it should be maintained in rows). Cultivation will be needed to maintain rows.

Seed fields are productive for three to five years. Average production of 75 to 150 pounds per acre can be expected under dryland conditions in 14 inch plus rainfall areas. Average production of 150 to 300 pounds per acre can be expected under irrigated conditions. Harvesting is best completed by direct combining or swathing in the hard dough stage, followed by combining of the cured windrows. Stands are prone to lodging and careful application of irrigation is recommended. Seed is generally harvested in late July to mid August.

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Western wheatgrass “greens up” in March to early April and matures in mid-July to August. It makes good spring growth, fair summer growth and good fall growth if moisture is available.

Western wheatgrass is palatable to all classes of livestock and wildlife. It is a preferred feed for cattle, horses, deer, and elk in spring and is considered a desirable feed for sheep and antelope in spring. It is considered a desirable feed for cattle, horses, and elk in summer, fall, and winter. In spring, the protein levels can be fairly high and decreases as it matures and cures out. This species is generally a relatively low forage producer, but can be utilized as native hay in areas where it is dense. Irrigation will improve western wheatgrass stands and aid in stand establishment. Weed control and fertilization help with stand establishment and overall production.

Established stands can withstand heavy grazing. Rotational grazing systems on western wheatgrass are recommended and 40 to 50 percent of the annual growth (3 to 4 inch stubble) should remain following grazing. Stands of western wheatgrass should not be grazed until they have firmly established. Six inches of new growth should be attained in spring before grazing is allowed in established stands.

Western wheatgrass is a low maintenance plant requiring little additional treatment or care. However, on better sites, stands can become sodbound and may need attention in the form of fertilization and moderate spring/fall deferment. Stands may also benefit from ripping if sodbound conditions occur to increase forage production. Care should be taken to avoid excessive tillage, because stands may be damaged.

Once established, western wheatgrass is very competitive with weedy species. Its primary pests include grasshoppers, ergot, and stem and leaf rusts.

Environmental Concerns: Western wheatgrass is long-lived, spreads primarily via vegetative means (rhizomes), but also may also spread via seed distribution. It is not considered "weedy", but can spread into adjoining vegetative communities under ideal climatic and environmental conditions.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites

More info for the terms: natural, reclamation

Western wheatgrass is a good soil binder and is well suited for reclamation of disturbed sites such as surface coal mines, erosion control, and soil stabilization [37,105,139]. It is commonly included in seed mixtures used for rangeland seeding, revegetation of saline-alkali areas such as saltwater blowout sites, and in critical areas for erosion control [27,69]. It can also be seeded onto wet areas or waterways [131].

Since rhizomes may persist in land broken for cultivation, western wheatgrass spreads rapidly on abandoned land [121,153]. In Wyoming and Montana, western wheatgrass is one of the most promising grasses for reclaiming saline seeps, as well as other problem sites [121]. In Nebraska and Saskatchewan, it shows potential value for controlling wind erosion in sand blowouts or on dunes [67,103,126]. Western wheatgrass is used for roadside revegetation at "higher elevations" in Arizona, and along roadsides in Iowa [24,47].

In Arizona, successful coal-mine reclamation included the use of fertilizers, a combination of natural rainfall and sprinkler irrigation for the first 2 years, and seeding perennial grasses including western wheatgrass, crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), and Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) [129]. The effects of 3 soil materials, 3 mulching treatments, and 2 soil moisture treatments on the growth and forage production of western wheatgrass when used in the reclamation of coal mine spoils were investigated during a 3-year experiment in Arizona. Average stems per pot and dry forage yield per pot for western wheatgrass were determined for all treatment combinations. The highest number of stems per plot, the tallest plants, and the highest forage yield were produced with Gila loam soil, barley straw mulch, and soil moisture treatment with maximum production. More vigorous plants and more forage were produced when soil mulch was used than when soils were not mulched [36].

Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae are a common component of arid soils. They usually increase nutrient and water intake, as well as increasing the dry mass of plants. The disturbance of land often leads to the reduction or elimination of mycorrhizal fungi propagules. Workers investigating the development of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae and proliferation of roots of western wheatgrass in a revegetated mine spoil in southeastern Wyoming found that western wheatgrass was not highly dependent on mycorrhizal infection for survival [100]. Researchers at the Kemmerer Coal Mine in southwestern Wyoming found that mycorrhizae benefited western wheatgrass [3].

Western wheatgrass can be successfully drilled or broadcast seeded [5,88]. It can be successfully seeded during the spring or fall [120]. Numerous cultivars, adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions, are available for commercial use [7,10,53,79,121,139]. 

  • 3. Allen, E. B.; Allen M. F. 1986. Water relations of xeric grasses in the field: interactions of mycorrhizae and competition. New Phytologist. 104: 559-571. [2875]
  • 5. Allison, Chris. 1988. Seeding New Mexico rangeland. Circular 525. Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University, College of Agriculture and Home Economics, Cooperative Extension Service. 15 p. [11830]
  • 7. Asay, K. H. 1983. Promising new grasses for range seedings. In: Monsen, Stephen B.; Shaw, Nancy, compilers, Managing Intermountain rangelands--improvement of range and wildlife habitats: Proceedings of symposia; 1981 September 15-17; Twin Falls, ID; 1982 June 22-24; Elko, NV. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-157. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 110-115. [356]
  • 10. Barker, R. E.; Holzworth, L. K.; Asay, K. H. 1985. Genetic resources of wheatgrass and wildrye species native to the rangelands of western North America. In: Carlson, Jack R.; Mcarthur, E. Durant, chairmen. Range plant improvement in western North America: Proceedings of a symposium at the annual meeting of the Society for Range Management; 1985 February 14; Salt Lake City, UT. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 9-13. [4381]
  • 24. Brady, E. LeRoy. 1991. Use of native plants for roadside revegetation. In: Rangeland Technology Equipment Council, 1991 annual report. 9222-2808-MTDC. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Technology and Development Program: 15-16. [17081]
  • 27. Bultsma, Paul M.; Haas, Russell J. 1989. Grass varieties for North Dakota. R-794 (Revised). Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University, North Dakota State University Extension Service. 7 p. [19474]
  • 36. Day, A. D.; Ludeke, K. L. 1986. Reclamation and fertilization of coal mine soils in the Southwestern desert. Desert Plants. 8(1): 20-22. [3457]
  • 37. Day, A. D.; Ludeke, K. L. 1987. Effects of soil materials, mulching treatments, and soil moisture on the growth and yield of western wheatgrass for coal mine reclamation. Desert Plants. 8(3): 136-139. [223]
  • 47. Ehley, Alan M. 1990. Program encourages use of prairie species on roadsides. Restoration & Management Notes. 8(2): 101-102. [14156]
  • 53. Ferguson, Robert B.; Frischknecht, Neil C. 1985. Reclamation on Utah's Emery and Alton coal fields: techniques and plant materials. Res. Pap. INT-335. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 78 p. [917]
  • 67. Grilz, P.; Delanoy, L.; Grismer, G. 1988. Site preparation, seeding, nurse crop methods tested in dune restoration (Saskatchewan). Restoration & Management Notes. 6(1): 47-48. [4696]
  • 69. Halvorson, Gary A.; Lang, Kent J. 1989. Revegetation of a salt water blowout site. Journal of Range Management. 42(1): 61-65. [11208]
  • 79. Holzworth, Larry; Lacey, John. 1993. Species selection criteria for seeding dryland pastures in Montana. Extension Bulletin 19. Bozeman, MT: Montana State Univeristy, Extension Service. 12 p. [21134]
  • 88. Klebesadel, Leslie J.; Helm, D. J. 1992. Relationship of latitude-of-origin to winter survival and to forage and seed yields of wheatgrasses (Agropyron species) in subarctic Alaska. Bulletin 88. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. 22 p. [21024]
  • 100. Loree, J. A. J.; Williams, S. E. 1987. Colonization of western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii Rydb.) by vesicular-arbuscular mychorrhizal fungi during the revegetation of a surface mine. New Phytologist. 106: 735-744. [140]
  • 103. Malakouti, M. J.; Lewis, D. T.; Stubbendieck, J. 1978. Effect of grasses and soil properties on wind erosion in sand blowouts. Journal of Range Management. 31(6): 417-420. [1512]
  • 105. Meier, Gretchen; Weaver, T. 1997. Desirables and weeds for roadside management--a northern Rocky Mountain catalogue. Report No. RHWA/MT-97/8115. Final report: July 1994-December 1997. Helena, MT: State of Montana Department of Transportation, Research, Development, and Technology Transfer Program. 145 p. [29135]
  • 120. Ries, R. E.; Hofmann, L. 1996. Perennial grass establishment in relationship to seeding dates in the Northern Great Plains. Journal of Range Management. 49(6): 504-508. [27217]
  • 121. Rogler, George A. 1973. The wheatgrasses. In: Heath, M. E.; Metcalfe, D. S.; Barnes, R. E., eds. Forages: the science of grassland agriculture. 3d ed. Ames, IA: The Iowa State University Press: 221-230. [2022]
  • 126. Scheetz, J. G.; Majerus, M. E.; Carlson, J. R. 1981. Improved plant materials and their establishment to reclaim saline seeps in Montana. Agronomy Abstracts. 1981: 96. [2073]
  • 129. Schuster, J. L.; De Leon Garcia, Ricardo C. 1973. Phenology and forage production of cool season grasses in the Southern Plains. Journal of Range Management. 26(5): 336-339. [3912]
  • 131. Sharp Brothers Seed Co. 1989. Grasses and forbs for erosion control. Fact Sheet. Amarillo, TX: Sharp Brothers Seed Co. 2 p. [18015]
  • 139. Thornburg, Ashley A. 1982. Plant materials for use on surface-mined lands. SCS-TP-157. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 88 p. [3769]
  • 153. Weaver, J. E.; Albertson, F. W. 1956. Grasslands of the Great Plains. Lincoln, NE: Johnsen Publishing Company. 395 p. [2463]

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Cover Value

More info for the term: cover

Western wheatgrass can be used to produce good stands of nesting cover for various ducks in the Dakotas [91]. It provides good nesting sites for mallards, gadwalls, and blue-winged teal [99]. Grasses, including western wheatgrass, are frequently selected for nesting sites by green-winged teal, pintail, and northern shoveler [138]. The degree to which western wheatgrass provides cover for wildlife species is as follows [45]: MT ND UT WY Pronghorn Poor Fair Poor Poor Elk Poor ---- Poor Poor Mule deer Poor Fair Poor Poor White-tailed deer Poor Fair ---- Poor Small mammals Fair Good Fair Good Small nongame birds Fair Good Fair Good Upland game birds Fair Good Poor Fair Waterfowl Good Good Poor Fair
  • 45. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 91. Klett, A. T.; Duebbert, Harold F.; Heismeyer, Gerald L. 1984. Use of seeded native grasses as nesting cover by ducks. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 12: 134-138. [5419]
  • 99. Lokemoen, John T.; Duebbert, Harold F.; Sharp, David E. 1990. Homing and reproductive habits of mallards, gadwalls, and blue-winged teal. Wildlife Monographs. 106: 1-28. [18102]
  • 138. Swanson, George A.; Duebbert, Harold F. 1989. Wetland habitats of waterfowl in the prairie pothole region. In: van der Valk, Arnold, ed. Northern prairie wetlands. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press: 228-267. [15218]

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Nutritional Value

Western wheatgrass is described as
"highly nutritious" [31].
It is rated as "good" in energy value and "fair" in protein value [45].



However, protein content varies by plant part and by seasonal
development. Protein content peaks during
the period of most rapid growth in the southern plains
(usually in April) and is generally lowest at or just
after the end of flowering [129]. Specific crude protein
values are as follows [111]:early May 31.6%
regrowth in early July 13.0%
late 1st harvest early July 9.8%
1st harvest late July 7.9%

In-vitro digestible dry matter by season is as follows [111]:initial harvest early May 74.5%
initial harvest mid May 76%
late 1st harvest early July 59%
1st harvest late July 54%

In a Wyoming study, calcium and magnesium content did not increase
with maturity and the iron content remained fairly constant during the
growing season, but manganese increased after September 30th and phosphorus
became deficient prior to August 17th. Crude
protein content declined steadily from 14.5% on June 29th to 4.7%
by October 29th [117].

Protein content per gram is greater in the tops, roots, and
rhizomes of clipped plants than in nonclipped plants;
the soluble sugars and starch per gram are less
in clipped plants. Recovery and growth of plant tops is
prevented by frequent removal of vegetation [65,50]. The
nutrient quality of plants can also be altered by
defoliation by grasshoppers. Severe defoliation
can produce decreased foliar nitrogen and carbohydrates, and
can increase phenolic concentrations [118].

  • 45. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806]
  • 50. Everson, A. C. 1966. Effects of frequent clipping at different stubble heights on western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii, Rydb.). Agronomy Journal. 58: 33-35. [904]
  • 65. Goetz, Harold. 1969. Composition and yields of native grassland sites fertilized at different rates of nitrogen. Journal of Range Management. 22(6): 384-390. [1029]
  • 111. Newell, L. C.; Moline, W. J. 1978. Forage quality evaluations of twelve grasses in relation to season for grazing. Res. Bull. 283. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, Agricultural Experiment Station. 43 p. [5741]
  • 117. Rauzi, Frank; Painter, L. I.; Dobrenz, Albert K. 1969. Mineral and protein contents of blue grama and western wheatgrass. Journal of Range Management. 22: 47-49. [1942]
  • 118. Redak, R. A.; Capinera, J. L. 1994. Changes in western wheatgrass foliage quality following defoliation: consequences for a graminivorous grasshopper. Oecologia. 100: 80-88. [26540]
  • 129. Schuster, J. L.; De Leon Garcia, Ricardo C. 1973. Phenology and forage production of cool season grasses in the Southern Plains. Journal of Range Management. 26(5): 336-339. [3912]
  • 31. Casterline & Sons Seeds Inc. [n.d.]. Range plants for the High Plains and Rocky Mountain region. Dodge City, KS: Casterline Seeds. 23 p. [18386]

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Importance to Livestock and Wildlife

More info for the term: shrub

Western wheatgrass is an important forage species on ranges in good condition in pinyon-juniper, chaparral, northern desert shrub, and shortgrass prairie [48]. It is one of the most valuable North American wheatgrasses [88]. Although leaves are stiff, they rarely become sufficiently coarse to discourage animal use [36,84,121].

Western wheatgrass is one of the primary grasses eaten by cattle in New Mexico and in central and eastern Montana [4,95]. It provides important domestic sheep forage in southeastern Montana, particularly during June, July, and August [2]. Fall regrowth cures well on the stem, so western wheatgrass is considered good winter forage for domestic livestock [68].

Bison feed on western wheatgrass in the Great Plains; it is preferred by bison to blue grama in northeastern Colorado [74,112,142]. Western wheatgrass makes up a higher percentage of bison diets on heavily grazed ranges than on lightly grazed sites [112]. In Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, elk consume western wheatgrass during the fall, winter, spring, and summer [172]. It is eaten by white-tailed deer in eastern and central Montana, with heaviest use during the spring [4].

Western wheatgrass is used by various small mammals. It is heavily used by pocket gophers from May through September [35]. It is also heavily grazed by black-tailed prairie dogs in South Dakota [83].

  • 2. Alexander, Lynn E.; Uresk, Daniel W.; Hansen, Richard M. 1983. Summer food habits of domestic sheep in southeastern Montana. Journal of Range Management. 36(3): 307-308. [6003]
  • 4. Allen, Eugene O. 1968. Range use, foods, condition, and productivity of white-tailed deer in Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management. 32(1): 130-141. [16331]
  • 35. Cox, George W. 1989. Early summer diet and food preferences of northern pocket gophers in north central Oregon. Northwest Science. 63(3): 77-82. [9310]
  • 36. Day, A. D.; Ludeke, K. L. 1986. Reclamation and fertilization of coal mine soils in the Southwestern desert. Desert Plants. 8(1): 20-22. [3457]
  • 48. Enevoldsen, Myron E.; Lewis, James K. 1978. Effect of range site and range condition on height and location of the shoot apex in vegetative shoots of western wheatgrass. In: Hyder, Donald N., ed. Proceedings, 1st international rangeland congress; 1978 August 14-18; Denver, CO. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 387-391. [864]
  • 74. Hartnett, David C.; Hickman, Karen R.; Walter, Laura E. Fischer. 1996. Effects of bison grazing, fire, and topography on floristic diversity in tallgrass prairie. Journal of Range Management. 49(5): 413-420. [27144]
  • 83. Jaramillo, Victor J.; Detling, James K. 1988. Grazing history, defoliation, and competition: effects on shortgrass production and nitrogen accumulation. Ecology. 69(5): 1599-1608. [5589]
  • 84. Judd, B. Ira. 1962. Principal forage plants of southwestern ranges. Stn. Pap. No. 69. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 93 p. [1302]
  • 88. Klebesadel, Leslie J.; Helm, D. J. 1992. Relationship of latitude-of-origin to winter survival and to forage and seed yields of wheatgrasses (Agropyron species) in subarctic Alaska. Bulletin 88. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska, School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management, Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. 22 p. [21024]
  • 112. Peden, Donald G. 1976. Botanical composition of bison diets on shortgrass plains. The American Midland Naturalist. 96(1): 225-229. [24596]
  • 121. Rogler, George A. 1973. The wheatgrasses. In: Heath, M. E.; Metcalfe, D. S.; Barnes, R. E., eds. Forages: the science of grassland agriculture. 3d ed. Ames, IA: The Iowa State University Press: 221-230. [2022]
  • 142. Trammel, Michael A.; Butler, Jack L. 1995. Effects of toxic plants on native ungulate use of habitat. Journal of Wildlife Management. 59(4): 808-816. [28316]
  • 172. Wydeven, Adrian P.; Dahlgren, Robert B. 1985. Ungulate habitat relationships in Wind Cave National Park. Journal of Wildlife Management. 49(3): 805-813. [57]
  • 68. Hafenrichter, A. L.; Schwendiman, John L.; Harris, Harold L.; [and others]. 1968. Grasses and legumes for soil conservation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin states. Agric. Handb. 339. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 69 p. [18604]
  • 95. Krysl, L. J.; Galyean, M. L.; Wallace, J. D.; [and others]. 1987. Cattle nutrition on blue grama rangeland in New Mexico. Bull. 727. Las Cruces, NM: New Mexico State University, Agricultural Experiment Station. 35 p. [5177]

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Other uses and values

Native and seeded stands of western wheatgrass are used for pasture and hay [152].
  • 152. Wasser, Clinton H. 1982. Ecology and culture of selected species useful in revegetating disturbed lands in the West. FWS/OBS-82/56. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Biological Services, Western Energy and Land Use Team. 347 p. Available from NTIS, Springfield, VA 22161; PB-83-167023. [2458]

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Palatability

Western wheatgrass is described as "very palatable" [31].
New growth is particularly palatable to cattle
and to domestic sheep. Plants often
become coarse by early summer and palatability declines [68].
In some areas plants may become "stemmy
and unpalatable" by late summer [130].
The degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species is rated as follows: CO MT ND UT WY
Cattle Good Good Good Good Good
Domestic sheep Fair Fair Fair Fair Good
Horses Good Good Good Good Good
Pronghorn ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair
Elk ---- Good ---- Fair Good
Mule deer ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair
Small mammals ---- Poor Poor Good Fair
Small nongame birds ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair
Upland game birds ---- ---- Poor Fair Fair
Waterfowl ---- ---- Good Fair Fair
  • 31. Casterline & Sons Seeds Inc. [n.d.]. Range plants for the High Plains and Rocky Mountain region. Dodge City, KS: Casterline Seeds. 23 p. [18386]
  • 68. Hafenrichter, A. L.; Schwendiman, John L.; Harris, Harold L.; [and others]. 1968. Grasses and legumes for soil conservation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin states. Agric. Handb. 339. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 69 p. [18604]
  • 130. Sharp Bros. Seed Co. [n.d.]. Western wheatgrass. Fact Sheet. Amarillo, TX: Sharp Bros. Seed Co. 2 . [18005]

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Uses

Grazing/rangeland/hayland: Western wheatgrass is palatable to all classes of livestock and wildlife. It is a preferred feed for cattle, horses, deer, and elk in spring and is considered a desirable feed for sheep and antelope in spring. It is considered a desirable feed for cattle, horses, and elk in summer, fall and winter. In spring, the protein levels can be fairly high and decreases as it matures and cures out. This species is generally a relatively low forage producer, but can be utilized as native hay.

Erosion control/reclamation: Western wheatgrass is well adapted to stabilization of disturbed soils because of its strong spreading rhizomes. It does not compete well with aggressive introduced grasses during the establishment period, but is very compatible with slower developing natives such as bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseuoroegneria spicata), thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus), streambank wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus ssp. psammophilus), and needlegrass species (Nasella spp., Stipa spp., and Ptilagrostis spp.). Stands are generally slow to develop and may be non-existent the establishment year. However, over 50 percent stands are typically achieved by the end of the fourth growing season. Poor germination accounts for the poor initial establishment and strong rhizome spread accounts for stand development in later years. Its relative drought tolerance combined with strong rhizomatous root systems and adaptation to a variety of soils make this species ideal for reclamation in areas receiving 12 to 20 inches annual precipitation. Its low growth form, vigorous sod, and low maintenance requirements make it ideal for ground cover purposes. This grass can be used in urban areas where irrigation water is limited to provide ground cover and to stabilize ditchbanks, dikes, and roadsides.

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USDA NRCS Idaho State Office & the National Plant Data Center

Source: USDA NRCS PLANTS Database

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Wikipedia

Pascopyrum

Pascopyrum is a monotypic genus of grass containing the sole species Pascopyrum smithii, which is known by the common name western wheatgrass, though the common nickname is red-joint wheatgrass, from the red coloration of the nodes. This is a sod-forming rhizomatous perennial grass which is native and common throughout most of North America. It grows in grassland and prairie in the Great Plains, where it is sometimes the dominant grass species. It is the state grass of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

It is a valuable forage for animals such as bison and black-tailed prairie dogs, and it is good for grazing livestock.[1] It is used for revegetation of disturbed and overgrazed habitat, and many cultivars have been developed to suit various conditions,[1] including low-maintenance lawns. Wheatgrass generally tolerates mowing to four inches, but does not tolerate shade. Healthy stands may crowd out other species, making it more suitable for monoculure plantings.

References[edit]

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Source: Wikipedia

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

The fully documented scientific name of western wheatgrass is Pascopyrum
smithii P.A. Love (Poaceae) [12,86]. There
has been much confusion concerning the taxonomy of western
wheatgrass [12,13,14,41,42,43,64,77,78]. It is believed to be the product
of an allo-octoploid (2n=56) derived from hybridization
of 2 tetraploid grasses (2n=28); thickspike wheatgrass (Elymus lanceolatus)
and beardless wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria
spicata ssp. inerme) [111]. Barkworth and Dewey [12] recognize
the monotypic genus Pascopyrum A. Love.



Ecotypes of western wheatgrass vary in forage and seed production
characteristics and in color, coarseness, and competitiveness [68].

  • 78. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur; Ownbey, Marion. 1969. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 1: Vascular cryptograms, gymnosperms, and monocotyledons. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 914 p. [1169]
  • 111. Newell, L. C.; Moline, W. J. 1978. Forage quality evaluations of twelve grasses in relation to season for grazing. Res. Bull. 283. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska, Agricultural Experiment Station. 43 p. [5741]
  • 12. Barkworth, Mary E.; Dewey, Douglas R. 1985. Genomically based genera in the perennial Triticeae of North America: identification and membership. American Journal of Botany. 72(5): 767-776. [393]
  • 13. Barkworth, Mary E.; Dewey, Douglas R.; Atkins, Riley J. 1983. New generic concepts in the Triticeae of the Intermountain Region: key and comments. The Great Basin Naturalist. 43(4): 561-572. [394]
  • 14. Baum, Bernard R.; Estes, James R.; Gupta, Pushpendra K. 1987. Assessment of the genomic system of classification in the Triticeae. American Journal of Botany. 74(9): 1388-1395. [198]
  • 41. Dewey, Douglas R. 1975. The origin of Agropyron smithii. American Journal of Botany. 62(5): 524-530. [792]
  • 42. Dewey, Douglas R. 1983. Historical and current taxonomic perspectives of Agropyron, Elymus, and related genera. Crop Science. 23: 637-642. [793]
  • 43. Dewey, Douglas R. 1983. New nomenclatural combinations in the North American perennial Triticeae (Gramineae). Brittonia. 35(1): 30-33. [794]
  • 64. Gillett, J. M.; Senn, H. A. 1960. Cytotaxonomy and infraspecific variation of Agropyron smithii Rydb. Canadian Journal of Botany. 38: 747-760. [1021]
  • 86. Kartesz, John T. 1994. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Volume I--checklist. 2nd ed. Portland, OR: Timber Press. 622 p. [23877]
  • 68. Hafenrichter, A. L.; Schwendiman, John L.; Harris, Harold L.; [and others]. 1968. Grasses and legumes for soil conservation in the Pacific Northwest and Great Basin states. Agric. Handb. 339. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 69 p. [18604]
  • 77. Hitchcock, A. S. 1951. Manual of the grasses of the United States. Misc. Publ. No. 200. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Administration. 1051 p. [2nd edition revised by Agnes Chase in two volumes. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.]. [1165]

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Common Names

western wheatgrass

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