Photo courtesy of Dr. Lynn Clark and Anna Gardner, Iowa State University

Common Name(s):


Scientific Name:

Dactylis glomerata L.

Scientific Name Synonyms:

None Known




Life Span: Perennial

Origin: Introduced (from Europe and Asia)

Season: Cool

Growth Characteristics: A long-lived bunchgrass, rarely with short rhizomes, commonly growing in clumps 1 ½ to 3 ½ feet tall; shoots conspicuously compressed. It starts growth moderately early in the spring and remains green during the growing season as long as it has adequate moisture.

Seedhead: Panicle, 2 to 8 inches long, with spikelets grouped together in dense, one-sided clusters at the end of panicle branches; spikelets contain 2 to 5 florets; lemmas pointed to short-awned.

Leaves: Blades long, up to ½ inch wide, folded when immature but later flat (or V-shaped at base), with prominent white midrib on the under side; both blades and sheaths are glabrous but rough when mature; leaves folded in the bud; ligules 1/8 to ¼ inch long, membranous, collar-shaped, with split margins; auricles absent.

Ecological Adaptions:

Orchardgrass is one of the more useful introduced pasture grasses, especially on irrigated pastures and non-irrigated rangelands at intermediate elevations where precipitation is 18 inches annually or more. It is shade tolerant.

Orchardgrass may be injured in areas with dry, cold winters and no snow cover, or if subjected to warm temperature in January or February followed by a period of extremely cold temperatures. It also does not tolerate extended periods of drought. Orchardgrass can usually survive moderate fires, but hot burns will damage the root crowns, killing the plant.

Soils: Orchardgrass requires well-drained, medium textured deep to moderately deep soils that are between moderately acid and moderately alkaline. It will grow on shallow, gravelly or stony soils where precipitation is 18 inches or more annually, or the equivalent under irrigation. It will not tolerate soils saturated throughout the growing season.

Associated Species: Timothy, smooth brome, willow, dandelion, Kentucky bluegrass, aspen.

Uses and Management:

Orchardgrass cures well as hay, and is sometimes mixed with alfalfa or other legumes to provide high quality hay. It also provides excellent pasture and has the ability to remain green and continue growing while being grazed. It recovers very quickly after being grazed or clipped for hay. It is good to excellent forage for livestock and wildlife, and is especially relished by deer. It provides early spring forage. The quality of standing forage rapidly declines with maturity.

Orchardgrass responds well to nitrogen fertilizer and irrigation.