Great Basin Wildrye
cinereus (Scribn. & Merr.) A. Löve
Elymus cinereus Scribn.
unusually large, robust bunchgrass, usually without rhizomes but
with thick tillers. Bunches are 1 to 3 feet in diameter and 2 to
5 feet tall. Starts growth in early spring, seeds mature by August,
reproduces from seeds and tillers.
Seedhead:Numerous, erect, awnless spikes
up to 10 inches long, dense and compact; 2 to 4 spikelets at each
rachis joint, containing 3 to 6 florets; glumes needle-like.
coarse, mostly flat up to ¾ inches wide and 1 ½ feet
long; sheaths glabrous; leaves rolled in bud; ligules membranous,
collar shaped, and up to ¼ inch long; auricles prominent,
wildrye is native to Utah and grows on riverbanks, in ravines, on
moist or dry slopes, and on plains at elevations from 4500 on up
to the steep mountain slopes at 10,000 feet elevation. It is adapted
to areas with 15 to 25 inches of annual precipitation, and is usually
found on sites where extra moisture is available, such as riparian
sites, ephemeral ponds, swales, and playas.
Basin wildrye is quite fire tolerant. It recovers well, especially
if associated shrubs have been killed.
Soils: This grass is adapted to a wide
range of soils from clay and silty soils in the deserts to coarse
textured, gravelly, and stony soils. It does well in moderately
sagebrush, western wheatgrass,
letterman's needlegrass, and fremont
Basin Wildrye is not tolerant of heavy grazing, due to the high
position of the growth buds (4 to 6 inches above the soil). When
managed correctly, it provides an abundance of good, palatable forage
during the early spring months, particularly for cattle. Forage
is fair for sheep and wildlife. It is relatively unpalatable in
the summer. It is especially useful for winter feed for most classes
of livestock because it is found above the snowline, but requires
a protein supplement.
To best maintain stands of Basin wildrye, it is best grazed during
the late fall and winter, when plants are dormant. If grazed in
spring or summer, use should be light. Heavy grazing during these
times will cause stands to degrade.
Basin wildrye is highly palatable to elk in spring and summer, and
highly palatable to mule deer in spring. It provides important cover
and winter forage for elk and deer. It also provides habitat for
upland game birds and food for songbirds and small mammals.
Basin wildrye provides excellent surface erosion control and soil
stabilization and can be a valuable restoration species wherever
moisture is adequate. It can be hard to establish due to a lack
of highly germinable seed.
Seeds of Basin wildrye were commonly used by many Native Americans
in the Great Basin. Roots collected in winter months are stiff,
and covered by a spongy, fibrous coating. When cleaned, these were
fashioned into hair and cleaning brushes.