|Hastings is a Biological Field Station of the University of California, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and UC Natural Reserve System. Gifts made Hastings possible- click here to contribute to our work in research and education.|
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
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),
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.
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
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 ones 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.
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!
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).
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.
Filarees 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