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Home>Plant Species>Native Species>Indian ricegrass

Drawing of indian ricegrass Indian ricegrass
Achnatherum hymenoides (Oryzopsis hymenoides, Stipa hymenoides)

question markDid you know?

Indian ricegrass requires only 6 inches of annual precipitation to survive!

What is Indian ricegrass?
Indian ricegrass is a perennial bunchgrass occurring naturally on coarse, sandy soils in semiarid and arid lands throughout the Great Basin. Other common names are sandgrass, Indian millet, sandrice and silkygrass. Its nutritious seeds were a staple food of Native Americans, thus giving it the common name, Indian ricegrass. This species is the state grass in both Utah and Nevada.

Indian ricegrass seeds

What are its characteristics?
Indian ricegrass has several traits that help it survive in a dry, unpredictable environment. Growth begins in early spring at low temperatures and seed production occurs rapidly. Similar to scarlet globemallow, Indian ricegrass seeds have prolonged dormancy which may last for many years. It also exhibits a trait called seed polymorphism, meaning it produces two types of seeds with different germination requirements. It is often a pioneer species on disturbed sites, though it does not compete well with other grasses. Individual plants tend to live only 3 to 4 years. Some people consider it the most drought-enduring of the native grasses, requiring only 6 inches of annual precipitation to survive.

Indian ricegrass plantWhat’s its value to the Great Basin?
Indian ricegrass is a key species on foothills and in semi-desert range. It is one of the more beneficial grasses for grazers, providing excellent forage for spring and summer use. It is especially valuable for winter grazing because plants cure well and the lower portions remain somewhat green. Due to the abundance of plump, nutritious seed, it is an excellent food source for upland game birds and rodents during the fall and winter. Rodents can play an important role in seedling establishment. In gathering seeds, they may remove or scratch the outer seed surface and enhance germination. They also make seed caches, unknowingly “planting” them at the right depth for germination and establishment.

What is its restoration potential?
Indian ricegrass has been used for revegetation following mining, brush control, overgrazing, and fire. A chief limitation is its low germination rate. A long dormancy period and seed polymorphism make uniform stand establishment difficult. It also has little competitive spirit against the fierce offense of invasive weeds.

Images:
-Drawing:USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 1: 174.
-Seed head: © 2004 Michelle Cloud-Hughes
-Plant: National Plants Database © Gary A. Monroe

Text references:
-Tirmenstein, D. 1999. Achnatherum hymenoides. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: (http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/, 26 September 2006).
-USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 26 September 2006). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
-Utah State University, Extension. 2006. Range Plants of Utah website (http://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/index.htm, 26 September 2006).

 

Close-up of indian ricegrass seed