Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Achnatherum richardsonii


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Esser, Lora L. 1992. Achnatherum richardsonii. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. ABBREVIATION : ACHRIC SYNONYMS : Stipa richardsonii Link SCS PLANT CODE : ACRI8 COMMON NAMES : Richardson needlegrass spreading needlegrass TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for Richardson needlegrass is Achnatherum richardsonii (Link) Barkworth [40]. LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Richardson needlegrass is distributed from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and parts of Yukon Territory [18,36] south through Montana to Colorado and west to eastern Washington [14,18].  Scattered populations occur in the Black Hills of South Dakota [14]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES20  Douglas-fir    FRES21  Ponderosa pine    FRES26  Lodgepole pine    FRES29  Sagebrush    FRES36  Mountain grasslands    FRES37  Mountain meadows    FRES38  Plains grasslands STATES :      CO  ID  MT  SD  WA  WY  AB  BC  SK  YT BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     8  Northern Rocky Mountains     9  Middle Rocky Mountains    10  Wyoming Basin    11  Southern Rocky Mountains    15  Black Hills Uplift    16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K011  Western ponderosa forest    K012  Douglas-fir forest    K016  Eastern ponderosa forest    K017  Black Hills pine forest    K018  Pine - Douglas-fir forest    K024  Juniper steppe woodland    K050  Fescue - wheatgrass    K051  Wheatgrass - bluegrass    K055  Sagebrush steppe    K056  Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe    K063  Foothills prairie    K064  Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass    K066  Wheatgrass - needlegrass SAF COVER TYPES :    201  White spruce    210  Interior Douglas-fir    217  Aspen    218  Lodgepole pine    219  Limber pine    220  Rocky Mountain juniper    237  Interior ponderosa pine    238  Western juniper    251  White spruce - aspen SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Richardson needlegrass is found in intermontane valley grasslands and meadows [24].  It is also common in bottomlands, on rocky or wooded slopes, and on hillsides in mature pine (Pinus spp.) forests [12,14]. In British Columbia, Richardson needlegrass commonly occurs on warm, dry sites scattered throughout major valleys of the sub-boreal zone [25]. Published classifications describing Richardson needlegrass as a codominant in community types are listed below: Grasslands of the North Fork Valley, Glacier National Park, Montana [16]. Fescue grasslands of western Canada [19]. Common plant associates of Richardson needlegrass not listed in Distribution and Occurrence are:  Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa), prairie Junegrass (Koeleria cristata), rough fescue (Festuca altaica), Idaho fescue (F. idahoensis), bearded wheatgrass (Elymus caninus), western needlegrass (Achnatherum occidentalis), timber danthonia (Danthonia intermedia), tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), sedges (Carex spp.), shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), timothy (Phleum pratense), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), prairiesmoke avens (Geum triflorum), northern bedstraw (Galium boreale), Hood's phlox (Phlox hoodii), and bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) [21,23,30,34].   


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Richardson needlegrass is an important forage species for livestock on the northern Great Plains [15].  It is also utilized by deer, bighorn sheep, and elk [7].  At lower elevations in western Montana, cattle graze Richardson needlegrass from late spring until early fall.  At higher elevations, grazing is limited to the summer months [7]. Needlegrasses (Achnatherum spp.) rank high as forage grasses on the western ranges because of their abundance, wide distribution, long growing period, and capacity to cure well on the ground [32]. At maturity, the long, sharp awns of needlegrasses become dangerous to grazing animals and can cause injuries to the eyes, ears, and skin [32]. Reports of livestock injuries caused by Richardson needlegrass, however, are not documented in the available literature.   PALATABILITY : Palatability of Richardson needlegrass varies with phenological development.  Palatability is highest in the spring and early summer when plants are young and succulent.  Richardson needlegrass is less palatable at maturity, when it becomes coarse and wiry [31].  In Montana, the palatability of Richardson needlegrass is rated as fair for deer, fair to good for elk, and good for sheep and cattle [21]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : The nutritional value of Richardson needlegrass during five major stages of growth are as follows (values are percentage of dry weight with the exception of carotene which is in mg/kg) [1,15]:                Leaf        Heading     Seed-ripe     Cured    Weathered                Stage Dry Matter      93.0         92.5         93.1        93.3       95.4  Protein         10.3         6.65         5.13        4.10       2.60 Crude Fat       2.55         2.60         2.27        3.00       2.60 Crude Fiber     31.2         31.2         34.7        31.1       38.4 Ash             7.20         6.00         7.40        6.10       4.50 Calcium         0.33         0.30         0.33        0.38       0.36 Phosphorus      0.15         0.08         0.08        0.07       0.04 Cellulose       31.3         34.6         35.8        34.8       40.5 Carotene        33.1         31.5         5.67        3.50       1.15 COVER VALUE : NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Fescue (Festuca spp.) grasslands are an important grazing resource in much of the West, and Richardson needlegrass is an important component of these grasslands.  Richardson needlegrass decreases with overgrazing [19].  On lightly to moderately disturbed sites, Richardson needlegrass increases.  On more severely disturbed sites, Richardson needlegrass decreases.  Richardson needlegrass increases on moist disturbed sites [19].


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Richardson needlegrass is a native, perennial, cool-season bunchgrass. This fine-stemmed, tufted grass grows from 16 to 40 inches (40-100 cm) tall [10,18].  The inflorescence is open and diffuse [18].  Culms are glabrous or slightly hairy.  Blades are typically involute and subfiliform and reach heights of about 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm) [14]. The seeds of Richardson needlegrass are hard, slender, and cylindrical, and have a sharp, pointed base (callus) and long, twisted awns [31]. Richardson needlegrass is a shallow-rooted species; the abundance of roots decreases as soil depth increases.  Clay accumulation restricts root penetration of Richardson needlegrass [22].  Richardson needlegrass becomes dormant following depletion of surface soil moisture during the latter part of the growing season [22]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :       Hemicryptophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Richardson needlegrass reproduces sexually.  The twisted awns of the seeds expand and contract with variations in temperature and moisture, drilling them into the soil [31,36].  Strong winds may transport seeds a considerable distance, especially when awns are twisted together in clumps.  Animals also carry seeds as the awns become trapped in their fur [36]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Richardson needlegrass is common on hillsides and dry plains, in open grassland or sagebrush benches, and in bottomlands, swales, and wooded slopes [3,10].  It is also found on moraines and gravel outwash associated with streams [3].  In Montana, Richardson needlegrass is found on mountain slopes on both sides of the Continental Divide at elevations of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (900-2,100 m) [21].  In north-central Colorado, it is found in mesic sites at 8,000 to 8,600 feet (2,400-2,580 m) [13].  In Wyoming, Richardson needlegrass is commonly found at elevations of 7,000 to 8,500 feet (2,134-2,591 m) and occasionally at elevations of 9,000 feet (2,743 m) [3]. Soils:  Richardson needlegrass is common on slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 6.6-7.3) [19].  Soil textures vary from fine sandy loam to clayey loam.  Cation exchange capacity is moderately high, but soils are considered of low fertility because of low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus [19]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Obligate Climax Species Richardson needlegrass is a climax codominant on sites in Glacier National Park and on fescue grasslands of western Canada [16,19].  It occurs in the rough fescue prairie association, a climax community type. However, the equilibrium between prairie and associated forest vegetation is not always clear.  Woody species such as willows (Salix spp.) and poplars (Populus spp.) are tending to invade the fescue prairie of Alberta, though the effects of fire, mowing, and limited grazing may serve to counteract this tendency.  It has been suggested that white spruce (Picea glauca) may be considered as the theoretical climax for much of the fescue grassland or black soil region of Alberta; however, natural burning tends to prevent this climax from being realized [39].   SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Most needlegrasses begin vegetative growth in the early spring, usually before associated grasses green up, and continue growing throughout the summer if enough moisture is available [31,32].  Needlegrasses flower from July to September [31].  No specific information on the seasonal development of Richardson needlegrass was found.


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Perennial needlegrasses are among the least fire resistant of the bunchgrasses [35].  No specific information on adaptations of Richardson needlegrass to fire was found. Season of burn and plant size contribute to needlegrasses' ability to survive fire.  Needlegrasses tend to be more susceptible to fire when burned during midsummer.  Plants with smaller crown diameters more often survive fire than do larger plants.  Successive years' accumulation of dead culm and leaves make older needlegrasses highly susceptible to burning.  Needlegrasses may often survive low-intensity fires, as heat is not transferred below the soil surface [37].   POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    Tussock graminoid


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Specific fire effects probably depend largely on season of burn, phenology, and fire intensity and severity.  Generally, needlegrasses (Achnatherum spp.) are top-killed by fire.  Occasionally, a few culms may survive along the periphery of the crown.  When fire severity is moderate to high, heat may be transferred below the soil surface, damaging roots and killing the plant.  Needlegrasses often exhibit subsurface charring following fire [37]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Production of most needlegrasses is initially reduced by fire; the degree of reduction appears dependent on species and season of burn [11].  In southwestern Montana, however, production of Richardson needlegrass in a rough fescue habitat type with a heavy preburn canopy of mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana) increased from 4 pounds per acre (1.8 kg/ha) to 306 pounds per acre (137.7 kg/ha) 2 years after a spring prescribed fire.  Basal area and biomass of most needlegrasses are also often reduced following fire, with basal area commonly being reduced by as much as 50 percent [37].  Small needlegrass plants with a lower ratio of dead to living plant material and less fuel volume generally respond more favorably to fire than do larger plants [37].  Richardson needlegrass is nonrhizomatous; therefore postfire regeneration is through seed or sprouting by surviving plants [10]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : The Research Project Summary Vegetation response to restoration treatments in ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir forests of western Montana provides information on prescribed fire and postfire response of plant community species, including Richardson needlegrass, that was not available when this species review was written. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Elimination of large scale fires has enabled coniferous forests to encroach into grassland habitats.  Fire policy in Glacier National Park before 1972 favored the development of coniferous forests at the expense of fescue grasslands [16].  Fire policies should assure the preservation of vegetation types such as the fescue grassland, of which Richardson needlegrass is an important component [16]. 


SPECIES: Achnatherum richardsonii
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