Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Achnatherum speciosum


SPECIES: Achnatherum speciosum
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Pavek, Diane S. 1993. Achnatherum speciosum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].

ABBREVIATION : ACHSPE SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : STSP3 COMMON NAMES : desert needlegrass needlegrass TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of desert needlegrass is Achnatherum speciosum (Trin. & Rup.) Barkworth (Poaceae) [44]. Desert needlegrass occasionally hybridizes with Indian ricegrass (A. hymenoides)[37]. LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Achnatherum speciosum
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : The range of desert needlegrass extends from Colorado west to Nevada and south into Arizona, southern California, and northern Mexico [13,17,30,37,39]. Populations are also found in southern South America [3,13]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub FRES35 Pinyon - juniper FRES40 Desert grasslands STATES : AZ CA CO NV UT MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K023 Juniper - pinyon woodland K024 Juniper steppe woodland K031 Oak - juniper woodlands K038 Great Basin sagebrush K039 Blackbrush K040 Saltbush - greasewood K041 Creosotebush K042 Creosotebush - bursage K053 Grama - galleta steppe K057 Galleta - three-awn shrubsteppe SAF COVER TYPES : 238 Western juniper 239 Pinyon - juniper 240 Arizona cypress 241 Western live oak 242 Mesquite SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Desert needlegrass is an important grass species in the understory of pinyon-juniper woodlands of northern Arizona and New Mexico [21]. In sagebrush steppe, desert needlegrass importance increases in arid areas [38,43]. Desert needlegrass is a component in the shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia) series of the Great Basin desertscrub and in the creosotebush (Larrea tridentata) communities of the Mohave Desert, California [1,28,32]. Desert needlegrass is an indicator for habitat types in the following publications: (1) Survey of endangered plants, Joshua Tree National Monument [17] (2) Transmontane coniferous vegetation [34]


SPECIES: Achnatherum speciosum
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Desert needlegrass produces considerable basal foliage and is good forage while young [13,25]. Desert bighorn sheep in Arizona and feral burros in California grazed desert needlegrass [18,26]. PALATABILITY : Young desert needlegrass is palatable to all classes of livestock [25]. Mature herbage is moderately grazed by horses and cattle but rarely grazed by sheep [25]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : In Arizona, Seegmiller and others [26] analyzed the nutritional quality of desert needlegrass at bimonthly intervals for 1 year. Desert needlegrass dry matter peaked at 95 percent in late summer. Protein content increased through June to 6.73 percent and then dropped in autumn to 2.35 percent. Acid detergent fiber percentages remained constant through the year at 43.67 percent. Lignin and cellulose increased from January to December, ending the year at 8.86 and 39.83 percent, respectively. Lipids steadily decreased from 3.74 percent in January to 1.86 percent in December. COVER VALUE : NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Desert needlegrass seeds are easily germinated and have potential for commercial use [42]. Desert needlegrass may be used for groundcover in areas of light disturbance, but it is susceptible to excessive trampling [18]. For 5 years, Cole and Hall [6] studied impacts to vegetation at campsites in the Grand Canyon, Arizona. Although still infrequent, desert needlegrass was relatively more abundant in campsites (2 plants total) than in undisturbed controls (0 plants). OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Desert needlegrass florets have a prominent callus. The sharp-pointed seeds with long, bent awns injure mouths and eyes of grazing animals [13]. Desert needlegrass may be eliminated from areas with a high concentration of grazing animals due to excessive trampling and overgrazing [18].


SPECIES: Achnatherum speciosum
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Desert needlegrass is a native, cool-season, perennial bunchgrass with stems 12 to 24 inches (30-60 cm) tall [10]. It grows in large dense clumps that have persistent leaf bases [25,37]. The inflorescence is compact and looks feathery due to the very hairy, bent awns [13,20]. Roots extend into the soil 3.3 to 3.9 feet (1-1.2 m) with most of the roots located from 0 to 1 foot (0-0.3 m) deep [3]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Hemicryptophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Desert needlegrass reproduces asexually and sexually. Vegetative reproduction occurs with the annual growth of new tillers [7]. This wind-pollinated grass may produce large amounts of seed [25]. From year to year, desert needlegrass seed crops are variable in amount and germibility in different populations [42]. Sexual reproduction is closely tied to water availability. Seed is not set if soil moisture is low and temperatures are high [3]. Desert needlegrass has persistent seed and seedling banks [35]. Seeds are self-planting. Depending upon moisture conditions, the awn alternately twists (dry) and untwists (wet), which drives the seed into the ground [25]. Awns and calluses catch on animal fur, assisting in seed dissemination [13]. The long awns may aid in wind dispersal. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Desert needlegrass typically occurs on coarse-textured soils with no profile development, often on sandy or gravelly alluvial fans [16,19,42,43]. It grows on dry rocky hills, talus slopes, and in canyons [10,13,42]. Desert needlegrass is found at elevations from 4,025 to 5,249 feet (1,227-1,870 m) in California and Nevada [5,19,25,31]. It is found from 3,000 to 7,000 feet (914-2,134 m) in Arizona and up to 8,500 feet (2,590 m) in southwestern Colorado [10,13]. Desert needlegrass grows in warm to temperate mediterranean climates, characterized by mild winters and warm to hot summers [4]. Young and Evans [42] state that compared to other native needlegrasses, desert needlegrass probably occurs in the most arid and harsh environments. Associated species not mentioned in Distribution and Occurrence are Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), white burrobrush (Hymenoclea salsola), Indian ricegrass, bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), Thurber needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum), and spiny phlox (Leptodactylon pungens) [16,38,40]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Desert needlegrass is a stress-tolerant ruderal [35]. In disturbed areas, such as abandoned town sites and roads, in Great Basin vegetation (for example, spiney hopsage [Atriplex spinosa] communities), desert needlegrass and Indian ricegrass seedlings were the first perennials to appear [23]. In town sites abandoned for 30 to 73 years, desert needlegrass and white burrobrush continued to dominate the vegetation [35,36]. At the Nevada Test Site, vegetation in the crater from an aboveground nuclear detonation was assessed after 14 and 24 years [24]. Desert needlegrass and Indian ricegrass had gradually filled in after annual plants. After 24 years, desert needlegrass plants had advanced into the crater 2,000 feet (610 m) and increased to 2.8 plants per square foot (30 plants/sq m). SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : New leaves emerge from dormant desert needlegrass tufts in the spring. Most vegetative growth occurs from late spring to early summer when moisture conditions and temperatures are conducive to growth [3,38]. Florets are produced April to June [10,13]. Seed production and dissemination occur May to June [25]. Tiller senescence begins in late summer [3].


SPECIES: Achnatherum speciosum
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Desert needlegrass has persistent dead leaf bases, which make it susceptible to burning. Fire removes the accumulation; a rapid, cool fire will not burn deep into the root crown [11]. Most perennial grasses have root crowns that can survive wildfire [14]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Tussock graminoid Secondary colonizer - off-site seed


SPECIES: Achnatherum speciosum
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Fire probably top-kills desert needlegrass. Most needlegrasses (Achnatherum spp.), especially young plants, are very susceptible to fire damage [41]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Surviving tufts of desert needlegrass probably will sprout. Two years after a lightning fire on the Nevada Test Site, many new seedlings and surviving bunches of desert needlegrass were present [12]. Fire did not kill belowground root crowns. In pinyon-juniper woodlands of the Great Basin, desert needlegrass was one of the perennial grasses that remained the same or increased in frequency 15 to 17 years after fire [14]. A recent (number of postfire years not mentioned) fire in pinyon (Pinus edulis)-juniper rangeland resulted in 1,271 pounds per acre (1,425 kg/ha) of desert needlegrass compared with nonburned production of 612 pounds per acre (686 kg/ha) [29]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Season of burning may be critical to desert needlegrass survival. Early summer fires caused higher mortality than fall fires in other needlegrass species (needle-and-thread (Nassella comata) and Thurber needlegrass) populations [41].

References for species: Achnatherum speciosum

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