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Home>Plant Species>Native Species>Bottlebrush squirreltail

Drawing of bottlebrush squirreltail Bottlebrush squirreltail
Elymus elymoides (Sitanion hystrix)

question markDid you know?

Awns on squirreltail seed heads help transport seeds!

What is bottlebrush squirreltail?
Bottlebrush squirreltail, or simply squirreltail, is a short-lived perennial bunchgrass closely related to basin wildrye, though not nearly as noticeable. Mature seed heads twist, its awns giving a bottlebrush or squirreltail appearance.

Bottlebrush squirreltail plantWhat are its characteristics?
It starts growth in early spring, only reaching 6 to 18 inches tall, and flowers by late spring. It may regrow and flower a second time if moisture becomes available. Squirreltail reproduces from seeds, and to a lesser extent, tillers. Plants are self-fertilizing and seeds are dispersed when the awned seed head is bounced along the ground by the wind. Awns may also get stuck in animal hair and be transported by them. Bottlebrush squirreltail inhabits a wide variety of soil types and is tolerant of saline and alkaline soils. It is drought adapted, growing best with 8 to 20 inches average annual precipitation.

What’s its value to the Great Basin?Bottlebrush squirreltail plant
In general, squirreltail is classified as fair forage for grazers. Later in the season after flowering, it may be consumed only after florets 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. Squirreltail’s most important role is as an early successional species, growing rapidly following disturbance. It shows good potential in its competitive ability against cheatgrass.

What is its restoration potential?
Squirreltail is considered to be one of the most fire resistant native bunchgrasses. Like Sandberg bluegrass, its ability to germinate in the late fall and early spring enhance its ability to compete with cheatgrass. It also has been shown to persist in medusahead-infested sites. Interestingly, it can naturally invade sites dominated by cheatgrass and medusahead. Squirreltail does not compete well with other perennial native or introduced species.

-Drawing:USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Hitchcock, A.S. (rev. A. Chase). 1950. Manual of the grasses of the United States. USDA Misc. Publ. No. 200. Washington, DC.
-Plant#1:Br. Alfred Brousseau, Saint Mary's College.
-Plant#2:National Plants Database © Gary A. Monroe.

Text references:
-Simonin, Kevin A. 2001. Elymus elymoides. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: (, 26 September 2006).
-USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database (, 26 September 2006). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
-Utah State University, Extension. 2006. Range Plants of Utah website (, 26 September 2006).