Poa fendleriana (Steud.) Vasey
Scientific Name Synonyms:
Eragrostis fendleriana Steud.
Life Span: Perennial
Growth Characteristics: Muttongrass is a partly dioecious (male and female flowers borne on separate plants) bunchgrass, without rhizomes but with numerous tillers. It grows one to two feet tall and often in dense clumps with numerous seedstalks.
Seedhead: The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by wind. The seedhead is a narrow, dense panicle, 1 to 4 inches long, with 2 to 3 branches at a node. Spikelets are about 3/8 inch long, somewhat flattened, and contain 5 to 7 florets. The awnless lemmas are hairy along edge.
Leaves: Leaves are rough to the touch, mostly basal, with blades 2 to 12 inches long. They are stiff, rough beneath, tightly folded, with boat-shaped tips. Leaves are folded in the bud; ligules are present, but very short and membranous. Auricles absent.
Muttongrass, together with the other taller native bluegrasses similar to it, are rather important to the overall range productivity in Utah. It is distributed statewide, occurring at elevations from 3,000 to 12,000 feet in sagebrush desert to wooded areas, on mountains, on alpine areas, and occasionally on dry ridges in the south of its range. Muttongrass is not shade tolerant.
Soils: Muttongrass prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. It does well on soils high in course fragments (rock, gravel, cobbles). The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils.
Associated Species: Includes mountain brome, slender wheatgrass, oniongrass, Kentucky bluegrass, sagebrush, bitterbrush, snowberry, Richardson’s geranium, and many others.
Uses and Management:
The name of muttongrass correctly implies that it has provided good quality feed for sheep. It is considered to be good for deer and elk as well. It can withstand rather heavy grazing. Because of their deep, fibrous root systems, muttongrass provides excellent erosion control.
With its mild flavor, the seed can be cooked in stews etc, or can be ground into a powder and used in making bread, porridges, dumplings, etc. The seed is rather small and fiddly to harvest.