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Landowners Guide to Native Grass Enhancement and Restoration

 5. Selected Non-native Grasses and Grasslands Plants

by Mark Stromberg, Ph.D. Hastings Natural History Reserve, UC-Berkeley
and Paul Kephart, Rana Creek Habitat Restoration, Inc.

    The most common weeds encountered in a new planting will probably include these species. You can just scan through the various non-natives here, or click on each and jump to the photos and descriptions.

Rat-tail Fescue (Vulpia myuros),
Rip-gut Brome (Bromus diandrus),
Soft Brome (Bromus hordaceous),
Wild Oats (Avena spp.),
Squirrel Tail (Hordeum murinum), and
Filaree (Erodium spp.).
     Because these are found almost everywhere in California, and are so abundant, some photos are included here to help with identification. Althought technically weeds, these plants are so widespread and abundant, that they could never be eradicated, even at a local scale. We can manage them with fire, grazing or mowing to reduce ther relative numbers, but we will just have to live with them. All of these plants are annuals.

Vulpia myuros or “Rat-tailed Fescue”



Vulpia spp. is probably the most abundant and widespread grass in California. It ranges in from many tightly packed slender, short stems in the understory, to scattered, tall plants that eventually lean over to form a tangle of slender stems. It is one of the first to green up in late winter. The many, fine stems each produce a fine row of individual flowers. Easily pulled up, the base of the plant is distinctly darker than the upper stems. It does pull up in bunches, but as individual, slender stems.




Bromus diandrus
or “Rip-gut Brome”

   Rip gut grass breaks off easily into single slender “seeds” that each have a buzz of backward-pointing stiff hairs that, although too small to be seen by the naked eye, can be felt. If you hold the seed between your fingers, you can only pull it one way. Able to embed itself in your socks or clothes, it can only be pulled out sharp-end first, and is able to work its way into the eyes and soft tissue of domestic animals. It is a most noticeable weed. It tends to grow in what look like bunches of several stems, but each bunch has roots only a few inches deep and can be pulled from the soil very easily. A small sewing needle is shown for scale so you can see how sharp these dry seeds can be.


Close up of seeds of Bromus diandrus. Tiny, back-facing hairs allow this seed to burrow in your socks, or into soft tissue on animals, giving the name “Rip Gut” grass.




















   Bromus. diandrus is brittle to the touch and harsh. Ripgut grass is only used by cattle early in the season when the basal leaves are soft and wide. This grass, and wild oats are preferred by gophers, and these grasses thrive on the disturbed soil that makes up the gopher piles or “tailings”.




Bromus hordaceous
or “Soft Chess”, “Soft Brome”

   Soft brome is well named; it is soft to the touch. When the seeds shatter, the naked stem sports a series of pairs of papery glumes that resemble small boats. Often the interiors of the small boat-like glumes have a dark streak. Soft brome can mature at only a few inches, with only one or a few flowers in the pair of papery glumes. Or, the glumes may hold many, many flowers, as shown in the photo. Generally, the plant does not look like a bunch grass, as most stems are separate. It has shallow roots and is easily pulled from the soil, with a single or maybe 2-4 stems.




Dry Seeds - Bromus hordaceous, or soft chess. Note the bi-colored, flattened seed. If you look down into the throat of each flower, you will often see the dark interior on one side. This grass flower is often found in one’s socks, but is not as difficult to remove. There are few backward-pointing barb-like hairs.











When green, Bromus hordaceous is very soft to the touch and is eaten by grazing animals. Like all the other annual weedy grasses, this grass makes large seeds by moving all the carbohydrates and nutrients from the roots, stems, and leaves to the seeds. The large seeds are then dropped where they wait for the next winter rains. However, the forage value of the remaining standing dead material is very low.








Avena spp. or “Wild Oats”

Two species of wild oats occur over most of California, a slender one (A. barbata) and a chunky species (A. fatua). The flag-like glumes of these oats persist as golden banners, often scattered at right angles along the main stem of the plant. Each pair of papery glumes only hold two flowers. Seeds are relatively large, and each has a dark, almost black spike arising from a fuzzy base. Another annual that appears to grow in a bunch of many stems, but again, each bunch has shallow roots and is easily pulled from the soil.






Typical flags of dry Avena spp.








Here you can see the pairs of flowers in each group in the green plant





This drawing shows two flowers, each with the twisted, bent black spike that arises from the papery case on the side of the flower. One of these flower has been pulled out and drawn above the flower stalk.

  For those of you trying to learn to identify grasses, this is probably the easiest species. The parts are huge and the flower is simple. And, you can find some just about anywhere in California!













Hordeum murinum, or “Barnyard Foxtail”, “Squirrel Tail”

   Squirrel tail can grow as a single seed head (photo) or in a small “bunch” that includes many stems, each with a few seed heads. The “bunch” can be pulled out of the soil very easily. The seeds tend break off, often leaving only the a tuft of the lowest 3-4 seeds. The long spikes on the seed heads are bristly and harsh to the touch. This plant is similar to domestic barely.

  After the squirrel tail dries, most of the seeds fall off, but often the lower few seeds remain, and look like this much smaller native, Hordeum brachyantherum, or California meadow barley (see below).



Erodium spp. or “Filaree”, “Red-Stemmed Filaree”, “Stork’s bill”

  Filaree is not a grass, but is a very distinctive indicator of a non-native, annual grassland in California. It can occur in the bare soil between clumps of native, perennial grasses, but is common on any disturbed soil. Two species are important; the larger E. botrys, and the smaller, cut-leafed E. cicutarium. Each “storks bill” actually is five seeds, each with the long tail tapering out to the end of the “bill”. These tails are tightly bound and make the central, elongated “bill”. At maturity, what becomes the corkscrew peels off the long “bill” and starts to curl, remaining attached to the seed. The familiar corkscrews then twist into the soil as they go through day-night cycles of wetting and drying, each time the spiral forces the sharp seed deeper into the soil. Eventually the seed breaks off, leaving hundreds of cork screws in any square meter. Filaree’s broad, flat leaves start life early in mid-winter, and can turn bright red in a cold spell. Large expanses of filaree leaves, sometimes with several overlapping layers, quickly smother other seedlings, including native grass seedlings. Filaree is a nutritious feed for cattle, but is only available as cattle feed for a few weeks each year. It rapidly dries to a rusty brown, crunchy layer of dead leaves and flowers.


Flower of E. botrys- “storks bills” to 5” long.



Flowers of smaller filaree, E. cicutarium.









Dried flower, spiral tail on seeds.











Close up of seed with tail, and long tail after the seed has broken off, with a dime in there for scale