Tall Wheatgrass

    Tall Wheatgrass

    Common Name(s):

    Tall Wheatgrass

    Scientific Name:

    Thinopyrum ponticum (Podp.) Z.-W. Liu & R.-C. Wang

    Scientific Name Synonyms:

    Agropyron elongatum (Host) Beauv.
    Agropyron varnense (Velen.) Hayek
    Elytrigia elongata (Host) Nevski
    Elymus elongates (Host) Runemark
    Elytrigia pontica (Podp.) Holub
    Elymus varnensis (Velen.) Runemark
    Lophopyrum elongatum (Host) A. Love




    Life Span: Perennial

    Origin: Introduced


    Growth Characteristics: Tall wheatgrass is a tall-growing, coarse-textured bunchgrass native to the Eastern Mediterranean Region, introduced from Russia in 1932. Clumps reach up to 6 feet and yield heavily with sufficient available moisture. Tall wheatgrass flowers during the last two weeks in July and ripens seed in September..

    Seehead: The seedhead is an erect spike, 3-16 inches long, with solitary spikelets at each node of the rachis, 1/2 - 1/3 inch long. Spikelets have 5-18 florets that may be smooth or hairy. The glumes are thickened and hardened, oblong, conspicuously 5-7 nerved and blunt or occasionally sharp-tipped. Lemmas are thickened and hardened, oblong to lance-shaped, 5-nerved and typically smooth. The seed generally does not germinate as well.

    Leaves: Leaf blades are flat to inrolled and typically rough or hairy. Ligules are short and hairlike. Sheaths are hairy on the lower margins.

    Stems: Several leafy stems that are 3 to 7 feet tall.

    Ecological Adaptions:

    Tall Wheatgrass is highly tolerant of saline and alkaline soils. It is adapted to irrigated or subirrigated areas and can survive weeks of flooding in the spring. It has been established on soils with a pH as high as 10.1 and will grow at elevations of 500 to 6,000 feet.  It will grow and persist in areas receiving 10 - 16 inches of precipitation annually. It is winterhardy with good spring recovery.

    Soils: Tall wheatgrass is especially tolerant of saline soils. It is adapted to irrigated or subirrigated saline soils and to imperfectly-drained, alkali soils. It prefers soils with a high water table. It can survive five weeks of flooding in the spring and can, therefore, be seeded on land that is wet for some time in spring.

    Associated Species: Foxtail barley, Great Basin wildrye, sueda, and greasewood.

    Uses and Management:

    Tall wheatgrass has been used extensively for seeding alkaline sites in the Intermountain regions.   It is useful for both hay and pasture. When not grazed or mowed, it will remain erect until after the following year's growth reaches maturity. It affords excellent cover for birds and other wildlife, and is sometimes used by ranchers for protection during calving or lambing. It is also very useful for grass barriers in cropland to control wind erosion and to manage snow.


    Tall wheatgrass is used in wildlife plantings where its tall, persistent, bunchy growth provides nesting sites and cover for upland gamebirds. In wildlife plantings interrupted drill strips, alternated with lower growing species, provide excellent cover and good hunting.

    Protection for one full season is required for establishing tall wheatgrass on irrigated land and for two seasons under dryland. The newly established plants should be allowed to mature and set seed before harvesting or grazing.
    Tall wheatgrass produces high yields of hay, which is suitable for sheep and cattle if cut before or shortly after heading. It does not exhibit temperature dormancy like many native wheatgrasses, and makes good recovery after cutting and good fall growth.


    Tall wheatgrass, because of its late maturity, provides a long grazing period when used for pasture, but it is not as palatable as most other wheatgrasses or other pasture grasses. When planted in pure stands and fenced, tall wheatgrass is readily grazed by sheep or cattle, especially the coarse leaves, and cattle and sheep make excellent gains on it. It must be grazed to maintain the plants in the vegetative state.

    Tall wheatgrasses require special management to maintain a good stand. This grass should never be mowed or grazed lower than 6 inches above the ground. When grazed frequently, this height should be at least 10 inches. Regulating grazing height is easily accomplished by cutting the crop for hay one year at the prescribed grazing height. The coarse, stiff stubble which remains prevents cattle from grazing closer than the cutting height in the fall of the following year. Thereafter the grazing height will be maintained by the cattle themselves. What little forage is lost by these high defoliation heights is mostly coarse, unpalatable stems. It may need occasional mowing if too much old growth accumulates.
    Western WheatgrassPhoto courtesy of Dr. Lynn Clark and Anna Gardner, Iowa State University, http://www.eeob.iastate.edu/research/iowagrasses/