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Home>Plant Species>Native Species>Snake River wheatgrass

Drawing of Snake River wheatgrassSnake River wheatgrass
Elymus wawawaiensis

question markDid you know?

Snake River wheatgrass wasn't recognized as a separate species until 1986!

What is Snake River wheatgrass?
Snake River wheatgrass is one of the most drought tolerant native perennial grasses available, surviving in areas with as little as 8 inches of annual precipitation. The 'Secar' variety of Snake River wheatgrass is more vigorous and productive than bluebunch wheatgrass, and the name was selected to reflect its drought tolerance (Seca means "dry" in Spanish). This recently recognized species was thought to be a subspecies of bluebunch wheatgrass until 1986, and the two can be easily mistaken.

Snake River wheatgrass seed head

What are its characteristics?
Snake River wheatgrass stands are persistent. This bunchgrass has an extensive root system, hardy seedlings, and establishes well under droughty conditions, particularly the “Secar” variety. Similar to bluebunch wheatgrass, it grows 1-4 feet tall and has a slightly blue-green color. These species differ in that the seed heads of Snake River wheatgrass are compact and florets are always awned. Bluebunch wheatgrass seed heads are elongated and may not have awned florets (See Grass Morphology page).


Snake River wheatgrass growing in a test plot
What’s its value to the Great Basin?
Snake River wheatgrass is a good food for cattle, horses, and elk, and at some times during the year for sheep, deer and antelope. Snake River wheatgrass seems to be more tolerant of grazing pressure than its bluebunch cousin yet can still be overgrazed, especially in the spring.

What is its restoration potential?
Its characteristic heartiness gives this species good potential for restoring areas receiving little annual precipitation. Snake River wheatgrass can establish quickly for a native grass and stabilize disturbed sites.

Images:
Drawing: Cindy Roché © Utah State University, 2006
Seed head: Tom Jones USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah
Test plot: Tom Jones USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah

Text references:
-USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 26 September 2006). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
-Jones, T.A., D.C. Nielson, and J.R. Carlson. 1991. Developing a grazing-tolerant native grass for bluebunch wheatgrass sites. Rangelands Vol.13 No.3: 147-150.