Photo courtesy of Dr. Roger Banner, USU Extension
Elymus elymoides (Raf.) Swezey
Scientific Name Synonyms:
Sitanion hystrix (Nutt.) J.G. Sm.
Life Span: Perennial
Growth Characteristics: A short-lived perennial bunchgrass, without rhizomes, growing 6 to 18 inches tall. It starts growth in early spring and flowers in late spring. It may regrow and flower a second time with favorable moisture. Squirreltail reproduces from seeds and tillers.
Seedhead:Dense, bristly spike, 1 to 3 inches long, often partly enclosed by the upper leaf sheath; two fertile spikelets per rachis node; spikelets contain 2 to a few florets; glumes and lemmas taper into harsh awns, 1 ½ to 3 inches long and divergent at maturely. Mature heads twist, giving it a bottlebrush or squirreltail appearance.
Leaves: Glabrous to pubescent; blades rolled or flat, rather narrow, with raised veins above and conspicuous midrib below; leaves rolled in bud; ligules short, membranous, collar-shaped; auricles variable, often absent.
Squirreltail is a native grass with a wide topographic range in Utah, from the desert flats to the steep mountain slopes. It is drought tolerant. Rainfall belts vary from 8 to 20 inches average annual precipitation. Elevations vary from 3,500 feet up to 9,500 feet.
Soils: It is adapted to a wide range of soils. It can withstand high salt, alkali, and high lime, and grows well in deep to shallow soils of textures ranging from sands to clays. It is most abundant on disturbed sites on either deep or shallow soils.
Associated Species: Sagebrush, shadscale, western wheatgrass, pinyon pine, and Utah juniper.
Uses and Management:
In general, squirreltail is classified as fair forage for cattle, horses, and sheep. Sheep prefer it in the early spring. It may be consumed in late summer and early fall after inflorescences have broken and fallen. It is unpalatable during the winter. The sharp pointed callus and awns may cause injury to soft tissue. Awns may contaminate fleece.
It rarely grows in dense enough stands by itself to provide much cover for animals, but in its plant community it contributes well to those purposes. It is considered to be only fair for watershed protection but very effective for wind erosion control. Today it shows tremendous potential to reduce cheatgrass dominated sites in the Great Basin.