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Scolochloa festucacea (Willd.) Link


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    Common river grass has a circumpolar distribution. In North America, it occurs
    primarily in the Northern Great Plains and Prairie Pothole region of the
    United States and Canada from Nebraska and Iowa north through Manitoba,
    Saskatchewan, and Alberta to the Northwest Territories. Disjunct
    populations occur in eastern Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska
    provided by eFloras
    Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Nei Mongol [Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia; SW Asia (Caucasus), NE Europe, North America].
    Occurrence in North America
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    Regional Distribution in the Western United States
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    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):

    5 Columbia Plateau
    8 Northern Rocky Mountains
    9 Middle Rocky Mountains
    14 Great Plains
    16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands


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    This is a forage grass, providing hay from swampy areas.
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    More info for the term: cool-season

    Common river grass is an emergent, perennial, rhizomatous cool-season grass which
    grows 2.6 to 4.9 feet (0.8-1.5 m) tall. The stout culms are hollow and
    0.1 to 0.2 inches (3-5 mm) in diameter near the base. The extensive
    rhizomes are soft, thick, and succulent [13,23,36]. Some authors [5,17]
    suggest common river grass is an introduced species to the United States because
    of its scattered distribution. However, abundant collection of common river grass
    in North Dakota over a long period of time suggests that it is native
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    Plant with spreading spongy rhizomes. Culms robust, erect from a decumbent base, rooting at lower nodes, 0.7–2 m tall. Leaf sheaths smooth, glabrous; leaf blades 15–40 cm × 4–10 mm, smooth, margins sharply scabrid, apex finely acuminate; ligule 3–8 mm, truncate. Panicle loose, elliptic to ovate in outline, 15–30 cm; branches 2–4 at each node, erect at first, spreading after anthesis, naked in lower half, scabrid. Spikelets 7–10 mm, florets (2–)3–4(–5); glumes broadly lanceolate, lower glume 6.5–8 mm, upper glume 7.3–10 mm; lemmas 6–8 mm; palea lanceolate, ca. 6 mm. Anthers 2.5–3.4 mm. Fl. Jun–Aug. 2n = 28.
    Physical Description
    provided by USDA PLANTS text
    Perennials, Terrestrial, not aquatic, Rhizomes present, Rhizome elongate, creeping, stems distant, Stems nodes swollen or brittle, Stems erect or ascending, Stems terete, round in cross section, or polygonal, Stem internodes hollow, Stems with inflorescence 1-2 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 and blade differentiated, Leaf sheath enlarged, inflated or distended, Leaf blades linear, Leaf blades 2-10 mm wide, Leaf blades 1-2 cm wide, Leaf blades mostly flat, Leaf blades mostly glabrous, Leaf blades scabrous, roughened, or wrinkled, Ligule present, Ligule an unfringed eciliate membrane, Inflorescence terminal, Inflorescence an open panicle, openly paniculate, branches spreading, Inflorescence solitary, with 1 spike, fascicle, glomerule, head, or cluster per stem or culm, Inflorescence branches more than 10 to numerous, Lower panicle branches whorled, Flowers bisexual, Spikelets pedicellate, Spikelets sessile or subsessile, Spikelets laterally compressed, Spikelet less than 3 mm wide, Spikelets with 3-7 florets, Spikelets solitary at rachis nodes, Spikelets all alik e and fertille, Spikelets bisexual, Spikelets disarticulating above the glumes, glumes persistent, Spikelets disarticulating beneath or between the florets, Rachilla or pedicel glabrous, Glumes present, empty bracts, Glumes 2 clearly present, Glumes distinctly unequal, Glumes equal to or longer than adjacent lemma, Glumes 3 nerved, Glumes 4-7 nerved, Lemma similar in texture to glumes, Lemma coriaceous, firmer or thicker in texture than the glumes, Lemma 5-7 nerved, Lemma 8-15 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 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 longer than lemma, Palea 2 nerved or 2 keeled, Stamens 3, Styles 2-fid, deeply 2-branched, Stigmas 2, Fruit - caryopsis, Caryopsis ellipsoid, longitudinally grooved, hilum long-linear, Caryopsis hairy at apex.

Diagnostic Description

    provided by eFloras
    Arundo festucacea Willdenow, Enum. Pl. 1: 126. 1809; Donax borealis Trinius; Festuca borealis (Trinius) Mertens & Koch ex Rôhling; Fluminia arundinacea (Roemer & Schultes) Fries; F. festucacea (Willdenow) Hitchcock; Graphephorum arundinaceum (Roemer & Schultes) Ascherson; Schedonorus arundinaceus Roemer & Schultes (1817), not (Schreber) Dumortier (1824), nom. cons.


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    Shallow, slow-flowing water, swamps; below 1000 m.
    Habitat characteristics
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    More info for the term: marsh

    Common river grass grows in northern climates where the winters are cold. It
    occurs in seasonally flooded wetlands including wet depressed meadows,
    prairie potholes, and lake and river margins [4,20,36].
    Common river grass shoots
    have been observed elongating in 32 degree Fahrenheit (0 deg C) water
    [36]. Common river grass occurs in freshwater and saline wetlands, with optimal
    occurrence in oligosaline water [20,26].
    Common river grass germination is
    substantially reduced by soil sodium chloride concentrations of 1,000
    parts per million and higher [11,38]. Optimal seedling emergence
    occurred in soil containing 250 parts per million sodium chloride.
    Seedling emergence decreased steadily as magnesium chloride
    concentrations increased from 0 to 6,000 parts per million [38].
    Common river grass has been reported in water with specific conductivity as low as
    0.1 and as high as 12.1 millisiemens per centimeter, with a mean of 3.4
    [20,38]. Common river grass
    occurs in the shallow marsh zone which is inundated by snowmelt
    water until June or July [36]. The soil surface does not dry out except
    possibly at the end of the growing season [26]. The thick, corky
    epidermis of the rhizomes prevents desiccation by drying or freezing
    [36]. Established common river grass is generally tolerant of continuous flooding
    for 1 to 2 years, with individual plants surviving as many as 5 to 6
    years [31]. Common river grass grows on mineral soils high in clay with some organic matter
    [15,36]. In the Peace-Athabasca Delta of Alberta, average particle
    distribution of the mineral fraction of common river grass sites was 5 percent
    sand, 49 percent silt, and 46 percent clay. Organic content in the
    upper 12 inches (30 cm) averaged 23 percent, and soil pH averaged 6 [4].
    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):

    FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
    FRES37 Mountain meadows
    FRES38 Plains grasslands
    FRES39 Prairie
    FRES41 Wet grasslands
    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):

    K049 Tule marshes
    K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass
    K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass
    K074 Bluestem prairie
    K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie
    K098 Northern floodplain forest
    Key Plant Community Associations
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    More info for the terms: codominant, fresh, marsh

    Common river grass occurs in emergent communities of seasonally flooded wetlands.
    It often occurs in bands along the shore, bordered by cattail (Typha
    spp.) or bulrush (Scirpus spp.) in deeper water and slough sedge (Carex
    atherodes) on the shallower, drier side [36]. It also occurs in shallow
    basins within common reed (Phragmites australis) stands [44].
    Common river grass forms monospecific stands in moderately saline wetlands. It is
    not as likely to attain dominance in fresh or saltwater wetlands [45].
    Common river grass is most commonly associated with slough sedge [3,6,36]. Other
    important associates include common spikerush (Eleocharis macrostachya),
    American sloughgrass (Beckmannia syzigachne), American mannagrass
    (Glyceria grandis), and bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis)
    [4,25,36]. Minor associates include perennial sow thistle (Sonchus
    arvensis), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), smartweed (Polygonum spp.),
    field mint (Mentha arvensis), rough bugleweed (Lycopus asper), marsh
    hedgenettle (Stachys palustris), and Canada germander (Teucrium
    canadense) [33]. Common river grass is listed as a dominant or codominant in the following

    1. Landscape classification and plant successional trends in the
    Peace-Athabasca Delta [4]
    2. Riparian dominance types of Montana [15]
    3. The vegetation of the Canadian prairie provinces. III. Aquatic and
    semi-aquatic vegetation [26]
    4. The vegetation of the Canadian prairie provinces. III. Aquatic and
    semi-aquatic vegetation, Part 2. Freshwater marshes and bogs [27]
    5. The vegetation of Alberta [32]

General Ecology

    Fire Ecology
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    More info for the term: litter

    Common river grass resists fire by sprouting from rhizomes. It occurs on sites
    that most often experience fire in late summer or early fall when no
    longer flooded. Fire benefits common river grass stands by removing excess litter
    which suppresses common river grass growth [37]. Fire may also create openings in
    other plant communities, allowing common river grass to establish [44].
    Fire Management Considerations
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    Prescribed fall burning of common river grass increases biomass production [4,37].
    In North Dakota, burned stands averaged 11,580 kilograms per hectare and
    unburned stands averaged 7,480 kilograms per hectare. Fire did not
    affect the nutrient levels in common river grass [37].

    Diiro [3] investigated the effects of burning and mowing on common river grass
    ponds and associated wildlife in Manitoba. Fall fires were conducted
    after the first hard frost and spring fires were conducted during dry
    days from early April to June. Fall prescribed burns had greater stem
    densities and biomass the following growing season than did unburned
    control sites, mowed sites, spring prescribed burns, or sites
    undisturbed for one growing season.

    Diiro [3] concluded that prescribed burning to increase common river grass biomass
    has detrimental effects on wetland wildlife. Burning is most feasible
    in dry years when wildlife are most susceptible because of decreased
    habitat availability. Ponds are more likely to contain water in the
    spring if they were not burned in the fall. Dead, standing common river grass
    culms catch and retain snow, and fall burning decreases this moisture
    retention capability. Diiro [3] recommended fall prescribed burning
    only in areas that do not rely on snow trapped within ponds as a water
    source. Even when feasible, he does not recommend spring fires because
    they destroy nests.
    Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
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    More info for the term: hemicryptophyte

    Immediate Effect of Fire
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    More info for the term: litter

    Common river grass is probably top-killed by fire. Rhizomes may be damaged by
    fires which occur during drought when the soil is dry and litter
    moisture content is low.
    Life Form
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    More info for the term: graminoid

    Plant Response to Fire
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    More info for the terms: density, litter, marsh

    Common river grass sprouts from rhizomes after fire. Fall fire removes the dead
    standing culms and accumulated litter, allowing unimpeded spring growth.
    In North Dakota, spring growth was initiated earlier on burned sites
    than on unburned sites, possibly because soil and water temperatures
    were higher where the litter had been removed by fire [37].

    In Saskatchewan, each of 13 marsh stands composed of common river grass, slough
    sedge, and common spikerush was burned one to four times during a
    10-year study period. The species composition did not change [31].

    In Manitoba, common river grass shoots emerged 5 days after a late July fire and
    were 4 inches (10 cm) tall after 10 days. At the end of the growing
    season, common river grass on burned and unburned areas averaged 19.5 inches (49.5
    cm) and 37.4 inches (95.0 cm) tall, respectively. Stem density was less
    on burned areas. After the next full growing season, common river grass stem
    height was still less but stem density was greater on burned areas. The
    fire opened up stands of common reed and stimulated growth of common river grass
    within these stands. Red goosefoot (Chenopodium rubrum) established
    with the regenerating common river grass, especially where common river grass roots had been
    killed as peaty humus burned [44].
    Post-fire Regeneration
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    More info for the terms: fire regime, herb, rhizome

    Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil

    Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the
    species name in the FEIS home page under "Find FIRE REGIMES".
    Regeneration Processes
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    More info for the terms: density, litter, rhizome, seed, stratification

    Common river grass regenerates and spreads primarily by shallow rhizomes. In
    North Dakota, a road grader removed the vegetation from a site dominated
    by hardstem bulrush (Scirpus acutus). The following growing season, the
    cleared area was dominated by common river grass with 90 stems per square foot
    (998 stems/sq m) while water was still 16 inches (40 cm) deep. Common river grass
    regenerated from rhizomes in the substrate [36].

    Although common river grass generally produces abundant seeds, it does so only if
    wetlands contain water early in the spring [18]. Seeds are dispersed by
    water movement and accumulate in the seedbank [34,43].

    Smith [38] tested the effects of stratification temperatures and times
    on germination of wet and dry common river grass seeds. Results were variable.
    Galinato and van der Valk [11] reported that stratification does not
    improve common river grass germination.

    Seed burial, which occurs with inundation, is required for common river grass
    emergence. Anaerobic conditions stimulate fermentation which increases
    the germination rate. In summer, anaerobic conditions increase as water
    levels decrease and potholes stagnate. Seeds, which have been
    stimulated by early season anaerobic conditions, germinate when light
    reaches the substrate and the ground is no longer submerged [11,36]. A
    seed burial depth of 0.4 inches (1 cm) maximizes emergence and seedling
    length and weight [38]. Seedlings can reach the soil surface from a
    maximum depth of 2 inches (5 cm) [11]. Smith [36] found no seedlings in
    areas with heavy litter accumulation.

    Few common river grass seedlings become established. A seedling must have a
    rhizome to survive the winter. Seedlings produce a rhizome 30 to 60
    days after emergence. The window of time between germination and
    dormancy is often too short to produce a rhizome [36].

    Merendino and others [29,30] investigated common river grass establishment and
    success on artificially created mudflats subject to reflooding 1 year
    later at different depths. Mudflats were created at four drawdown
    dates: May 15, June 15, July 15, and August 15. Seedling density,
    measured on August 30, was highest with the June 15 and July 15
    drawdowns. The soil may have been too cold for germination in May. The
    plots were reflooded the following May with four depths: 0, 6, 12, and
    20 inches (0, 15, 30, and 50 cm). By August 30, most 1-year-old
    common river grass seedlings had died with 12 inches (30 cm) or more of continuous
    flooding [29,30].

    McKee and others [28] investigated root metabolic response of common river grass
    to flooding. Common river grass has insufficient air space development in the
    roots to allow complete aerobic metabolism during prolonged flooding.
    It is not as tolerant of flooding as hybrid cattail (Typha glauca),
    hardstem bulrush, softstem bulrush (Scirpus validus), or common reed [28].
    Successional Status
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    Facultative Seral Species Common river grass colonizes exposed mud flats [14,20,43]. Once established, it
    persists under a seasonally flooded regime. Common river grass occupies a fairly
    specific environment with respect to water level. It is replaced by
    cattail and bulrush when average water levels rise and by sedge (Carex
    spp.) and American mannagrass when average water levels drop [4,32].
    On nutrient-rich saline sites with stable water levels, common river grass and
    slough sedge replace cattail as the pond bottom gradually builds up with
    silt and organic matter [24].


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    Common river grass shoot emergence is initiated from mid-April to mid-May while
    the ground is still inundated with water. Deeply submerged plants break
    the water surface at the same time as plants in shallow water. Flowers
    develop in May. Seeds mature from mid-June to late July. Germination
    of 1-year-old or older seeds occurs from mid-July to late August when
    the ground surface is no longer inundated. Rhizomes are produced from
    late August to mid-September. Dormancy begins in late September and
    early October [36].

Conservation Status

    Conservation Status
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    The Nature Conservancy Heritage Program lists common river grass as critically
    imperiled in Wyoming because of extreme rarity [2].


    Management considerations
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    More info for the term: litter

    Neill [33] studied the effect of fertilizer on common river grass marshes in
    Manitoba. Common river grass biomass increased after 1 year but decreased after 2
    years of fertilizing with nitrogen. The second year decrease was
    attributed to the mat of litter created by the tall weakened culms which
    resulted from the first fertilizer application. Phosphorus had no
    effect on common river grass biomass [33].

    Moderate to heavy grazing decreases common river grass productivity. The soft
    rhizomes which are near the soil surface may be damaged by trampling
    [18]. If heavily grazed, common river grass may be replaced by bulrush [23].

    Eldridge [8] describes management strategies for maintaining
    semipermanent wetlands in the Prairie Pothole region.


    Cover Value
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    More info for the term: cover

    Common river grass provides good nesting cover for some waterfowl, shorebirds, and
    ground-nesting raptors [7,10,39].
    Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
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    More info for the term: marsh

    Common river grass provides important habitat for nesting waterfowl [10,39].
    Dabbling ducks including mallards, northern pintails, gadwalls,
    widgeons, northern shovelers, blue-winged teals, and green-winged teals
    nest in common river grass. White-winged scoters, redheads, and lesser scaups
    occasionally nest in common river grass [39]. American bitterns, northern
    harriers, and short-eared owls nest in tall coarse wet-meadow or marsh
    vegetation including common river grass [7]. Common river grass
    provides valuable forage for cattle [23].
    Nutritional Value
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    Kirby and others [21] measured percent digestibility, protein, and
    phosphorus during four seasons: late spring, early summer, mid-summer,
    and late summer. Common river grass had good protein and digestibility levels
    early in the season, but levels declined rapidly after seedfill [21].

    Smith [37] investigated the effect of growth stage, mowing, and burning
    on common river grass nutrient levels. Two growth stage patterns emerged:
    common river grass nitrogen levels decreased through the flowering stage, then
    increased, and potassium levels decreased throughout the growing season.
    Burning and mowing during the previous year did not affect common river grass
    nutrient levels. Postflowering average dry-weight nutrient levels of
    common river grass, undisturbed by burning or mowing during the previous growing
    season, were as follows: 1.02 percent nitrogen, 0.12 percent calcium,
    0.08 percent magnesium, 1.2 percent potassium, and 0.0054 percent sodium
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    Common river grass is highly palatable to livestock [37].


    Common Names
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    common river grass
    whitetop rivergrass
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    The currently accepted scientific name for common river grass is Scolochloa
    festucacea (Willd.) Link (Poaceae) [13,14,16,19,23]. There are no
    currently accepted infrataxa.