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Landowners Guide to Native Grass Enhancement and Restoration
6. Selected Native Perennial Grasses
by Mark Stromberg,
Ph.D. Hastings Natural History Reserve, UC-Berkeley
pulchra - Purple Needlegreass"
Californias best known native bunchgrass, purple needlegrass occurs over most of the state. Tough basal leaves in this bunchgrass stay green most of the year. Roots extend down 20 feet and can tap the soil moisture in a drought so effectively that large, old plants can out-compete any nearby young plants. These plants clealy can live 200 yeas and maybe many hundreds more. Eventually, they space themselves relatively far apart so that all can survive droughts. Each year, mature plants produce a few seeds, shaped like a torpedo. Each seed has a long, thread-like awn attached, so the seed resembles a needle and thread. It grows well in dry, clay soils, on hillside and in forest openings. It thrives in deep, well-drained soils.
Close up of the needle and thread seeds of Nassella pulchra. The seed head has strong purple shading, and from a distance, the seed heads are clearly purple when young.
Hordeum brachyantherum or California Meadow Barley
California meadow barley, although similar to
squirrel tail, is surprisingly soft to the touch. Cattle will prefer this
grass when it is available. This smaller bunchgrass can survive brief
flooding and does well in wet soils. The flowers have a small awn and
rapidly break off the main stem, leaving small tufts. The basal leaves
are soft to the touch and turn golden brown in the summer, and even with
additional water, do not stay green. This grass is relatively low in stature,
growing ankle high in drier sites, and perhaps knee high in wet places.
Blue wildrye is often found on the edge of an opening, in a transitional habitat between full sun and partial shade. A bunchgrass, it can grow to shoulder height, with long smooth, waxy stems. The basal leaves are of medium width and some turn brown and curl in the summers. The green stems slowly turn straw colored and the seeds fall in late summer.
Creeping wild rye is low-growing (to 2 feet tall) mat-forming (rhizomatous) grass with blue-green leaves that thrives along creeks and seasonally wet soil. Most leaves lean away from the main stem, forming a complex of flags, stems and seeds. Each seed head has three flowers. Seeds are often sterile, as the plant primarily reproduces by underground runners. This grass can bind the soil into amazingly strong turf capable of withstanding erosion by fast-moving water.
Close up of seed heads and leaves. Notice how the leaves form a distinct angle between the stem and leaf (~45-75 degrees). This is very obvious, even from a distance (below).
Close up of plants, leaves.
Close up of flower
Leymus triticoides in gulley. Even in the dry season, creeping wild rye will continue to be green.
Photo (left). Some hairgrass do not have open flowers (D. cespitosa cespitosa)-at
Hair grass is most abundant along the coast, and can form almost continuous cover of adjacent bunches. This has been installed as lawns that, if near the coast, require no watering yet provide a delicate, very dense (if somewhat textured) lawn. There are two forms of this grass, but both have very fine leaves that are soft to the touch. One form has a spike of flowers that may reach to 2 feet and stays tightly closed (photo above; right). The other form has a similar bunch of basal leaves, but the spike of flowers opens and forms a bright, golden layer above the green leaves.
Bromus carinatus or California Brome
Photos: Flowers of Bromus carinatus. Note the flattened seedheads. In all cases, the seeds shatter very easily, leaving on a pair of glumes (paper-like, brown leaf-like flaps). Several seedhead have shattered in the flowers on the right.
California brome is one of the most variable grasses
found in California. It varies in height, color, fuzziness, and form across
geographic areas, and between habitats (say, hot or dry) in one site.
The seed heads are strikingly flattened. The leaves are broad and green,
and most stay green well into the summer.