Friday, January 6, 2017


BLOWING GRASS SEEDHEADS The past couple of weeks there have been lots of range grass seed head blowing and piling on fences and front doors and more. A few years ago we had this issue it was needle and thread grass, Hesperostipa comata or when I was in school Stipa comata, this time it is bottle brush-squirrel tail grass. For those of you who like scientific names it is Elymus elymoides but when I was in college it was Sitanion hystrix. What is bottlebrush squirrel-tail? Bottlebrush squirrel-tail, or simply squirrel tail, is a short-lived grass closely related to great basin wild rye, though not nearly as noticeable. Mature seed heads twist, its stem giving a bottlebrush or squirrel tail appearance. Hence the name bottle bush. Its ability to germinate in the late fall and very early spring at a wide range of temperatures add to its capability to compete with cheat-grass (Bromus tectorumL.) and needle and thread grass. Studies also indicate that squirrel-tail is capable of establishing in medusahead wildrye (Taeniatherum caput-medusae(L.) Nevski) infested sites. This makes squirrel-tail one of the more competitive native grasses available for reseeding disturbed rangelands. It is also a self-pollenating species which allows it to produce seed despite sparse stands following seeding, and seeds are dispersed when the awn (long hair like structure you see) seed head is bounced along the ground by the wind. Squirrel-tail is considered to be one of the most fire resistant native bunchgrasses. Older plants contain relatively low amounts of dead material when compared with other native bunchgrasses. This allows for hot, but quick burns which do not penetrate and damage the crown. However, during dry years plants can be damaged by severe burns. As an early-seral species, new plants often increase for two to three years following burns. When in large, dense stands, squirrel-tail is very effective at controlling wind and water erosion, due to its persistent ground cover. Squirrel-tail is considered to be fair to desirable forage for cattle, horses and sheep in spring before seed head development and late summer to fall after seed shatter. The long, sharp awns of the florets and glumes can be injurious to grazing animals during mid to late spring into summer. Leaves green up in very early spring and are palatable through the fall, especially following rain. The tendency for some leaves to remain green through the winter makes squirrel-tail an important, though not especially nutritious, winter forage species. The crude protein can range for 18% in the spring to 4% in the winter. This plant is much more desirable range plant than the needle and thread grass it has replaced. and seeds are dispersed when the awn (long hair like structure you see) seed head is bounced along the ground by the wind. Awns may also get stuck in animal hair and be transported by them. Bottlebrush squirrel tail inhabits a wide variety of soil types and is tolerant of alkali soils. It is drought adapted, growing best with 8 to 20 inches average annual precipitation which is Eddy County. In general, squirrel-tail is classified as fair forage for grazers. Later in the season after flowering, it may be consumed only after the seed head have broken and fallen because their sharp points can injure soft tissue. It provides fair erosion control and produces large numbers of highly viable seeds. Squirrel-tail’s most important role is as an early successional species, growing rapidly following. It shows good potential in its competitive ability against cheat-grass, and the needle and thread grass we had a few years ago. So while it may seem like a nuisance the fact it is here is a sign that our range land is healing after the severe fires we had a number of years back, and that ranchers with state and federal land managers are taking care of this vital resource. Subscribe to Eddy County Ag news at: Eddy County Extension Service, New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. All programs are available to everyone regardless of race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin. New Mexico State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Eddy County Government Cooperating

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