|Photo courtesy of North Dakota State University Extension Service|
Plains reedgrass is a cool-season, single stalked , native perennial [14,47,52,53]. At maturity, it may reach a height of 20 inches (60 cm), but is generally from 6 to 14 inches (15-35 cm) tall [33,34,35,47,52,53]. Plains reedgrass leaves are stiff, erect, strongly rolled, mostly basal, 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long  and up to 3 mm broad [33,34,35,47,52,53]. The panicle is scarcely interrupted, 1 to 4 inches (3-10 cm) long and 0.4 to 0.6 inch (1-1.5 cm) wide [47,52,53]. The spikelets of plains reedgrass are 1-flowered and 3 to 5.5 mm long [14,47]. Plains reedgrass fruits are awned caryopses [33,53].
Plains reedgrass is sod-forming [26,28], with slender rhizomes that are 0.3 to 0.5 mm in diameter and have short, thin leaves at each node . The roots are approximately the same diameter as the rhizomes . On the mixed-grass prairie of Saskatchewan, plains reedgrass roots reached a depth of 3 to 3.6 feet (1-1.1 m). Lateral roots were most abundant at depths below 10 inches (30 cm) and were 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm) in length . In a sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) community in North Park, Colorado, the majority of plains reedgrass roots were found at a depth of 1 to 1.5 feet (30-46 cm) .
RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Plains reedgrass reproduces via rhizomes [14,47,52,53,66] and seeds [12,13,66,71].
Pollination: Plains reedgrass is wind pollinated [42,51,88].
Breeding system: Plains reedgrass is wind pollinated [42,51,88], so mating system is primarily outcrossing.
Seed production: Information on plains reedgrass seed production is lacking. A fire study by Blaisdell  (see Plant Response to Fire) found that by postfire year 3, seed production of plains reedgrass exceeded prefire seed production.
Seed dispersal: Plains reedgrass seeds are likely dispersed by wind. The seeds are awned [33,53], which may facilitate dispersal by animals.
Seed banking: Most grasses have dormancy and thus may have a soil seed bank . To date (2006), studies are lacking on longevity of plains reedgrass seeds.
Germination: No information is available on this topic.
Seedling establishment/growth: No information is available on this topic.
Asexual regeneration: Plains reedgrass is strongly rhizomatous [14,47,52,53]. To date (2006), studies are lacking on the growth rate of plains reedgrass rhizomes.SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Climate: Plains reedgrass can withstand rigorous climatic conditions . In Montana, plains reedgrass grows in the continental semiarid climate zone [18,20,60]. In the northern Great Plains and the Canadian mixed-grass prairie, annual precipitation ranges from 12 to 18 inches (300-460 mm) [26,27]. Where plains reedgrass is dominant in the Badlands mixed grasslands of Montana and southwestern North Dakota, 75% of the precipitation falls during the growing season (April to September) [16,20]. Plains reedgrass can tolerate a temperate range of –48 °F (–44 °C) in the winter to 111 °F (44 °C) in the summer .
Elevation: The elevational ranges for plains reedgrass are presented in the table below:
|Colorado||7,876 to 9,724 feet [39,47]|
|Montana||2,200 to 7,000 feet [18,20,24]|
|North Dakota||2,000 to 2,600 feet |
|Black Hills||3,259 to 5,309 feet |
|northern Great Plains||1,500 to 3,500 feet |
|southern Alberta||1,800 to 3,800 feet [23,54]|
|southwestern Saskatchewan||1,800 to 3,800 feet [23,54]|
|Canadian mixed prairie||800 to 4,000 feet |
Soils: Plains reedgrass primarily grows on sandy to silty loam soil [20,23,83]. In southwestern Saskatchewan, plains reedgrass is equally distributed on fine sandy loam, light loam, loam, and clay loam soils . Plains reedgrass is found in small quantities on saline soils in Saskatchewan  and Montana .
Soil characteristics of a site in Fremont County, Wyoming, where plains reedgrass occurs, are presented below :
|Organic matter (%)||10.6189|
|Maximum leaf height (cm)||27.0||19.0||22.0||21.0||18.0||18.0||18.0||24.0|
|Maximum stalk height (cm)||30.0||19.0||32.0||21.0||13.0||29.0||---||35.0|
Fire regimes: Plains reedgrass is found in the sagebrush-grasslands of the northern Great Basin and in the mixed-grass prairies of the northern Great Plains, which exhibit a wide range of historic fire frequencies.
Northern Great Plains: Historically fire has played an important role in the northern Great Plains. The large tracts of continuous mixed-grass prairie, which occur in hot, dry areas and accumulate much fine fuel, are susceptible to frequent lightning fires. Higgins  estimates that 6 lightning fires consuming 4,000 miles² (10,000 km²) of grasslands occur a year in eastern North Dakota, and 25 lightning fires consuming 4,000 miles² (10,000 km²) of grasslands occur a year in western North Dakota. Early records kept by explorers, trappers, and settlers note a high occurrence of fires, both natural and anthropogenic, with fires occurring at intervals of 5 to 10 years [29,70,95]. Since the early 1900s, fire has been excluded, allowing nonnative species such as Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus), smooth brome (B. inermis), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), and Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) to take a strong hold in the area .
Plains reedgrass-prairie Junegrass communities in Jasper National Park, Alberta, are typically associated with Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia), Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), and quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) forests. Fire suppression in the Alberta Rocky Mountains beginning in the late 1800's has led to an unprecedented increase of coniferous trees on plains reedgrass-prairie Junegrass grasslands [5,75]. Using fire scar evidence, a fire history chronology was established in Jasper National Park for 1665 to 1975. Grassland fires were most commonly surface fires. The mean fire return intervals for 3 grassland sites in the southern, center, and northern section of the Park are presented in the table below :
|Location||Number of fires||Mean fire return interval (years)||Range (years)|
|Prairie de la Vache (S.)||10||18.8||10-39|
|Maligne River (Ctr.)||9||21.2||1-67|
|Henry House (N.)||7||21.7||1-40|
Sagebrush-grasslands: Fire in the sagebrush-grasslands where plains reedgrass grows likely occurred with a frequency of 20 to 70 years . Wright and others  hypothesize that fires likely occurred about every 50 years. Changes in land use and management practices, such as the invasion of cheatgrass (B. tectorum), have altered the fire return interval to less than 10 years in some areas [68,70].
The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where plains reedgrass is important. Find further fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".
|Community or ecosystem||Dominant species||Fire return interval range (years)|
|bluestem prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||<10 [57,70]|
|Nebraska sandhills prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. paucipilus-Schizachyrium scoparium||<10 |
|silver sagebrush steppe||Artemisia cana||5-45 [48,73,95]|
|sagebrush steppe||Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata||20-70 |
|basin big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata||12-43 |
|mountain big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana||15-40 [3,21,64]|
|Wyoming big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis||10-70 (x=40) [89,97]|
|plains grasslands||Bouteloua spp.||<35 [70,95]|
|blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass||Bouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii||<35 [70,77,95]|
|cheatgrass||Bromus tectorum||<10 [72,92]|
|western juniper||Juniperus occidentalis||20-70|
|Rocky Mountain juniper||Juniperus scopulorum||<35 |
|wheatgrass plains grasslands||Pascopyrum smithii||<5-47+ [70,73,95]|
|Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir||Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa||35 to >200 |
|pinyon-juniper||Pinus-Juniperus spp.||<35 |
|Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine*||Pinus contorta var. latifolia||25-340 [7,8,84]|
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47 |
|interior ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-30 [2,6,61]|
|quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains)||Populus tremuloides||7-120 [2,44,63]|
|mountain grasslands||Pseudoroegneria spicata||3-40 (x=10) [1,2]|
|Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca||25-100 [2,3,4]|
|little bluestem-grama prairie||Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp.||<35 |
Within the 1-mile² burn area, 400 circular plots with an area of 100 feet² were established. Plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass occurred in 83 plots. Vegetation samples were taken in 1937 (postfire year 1), 1939 (postfire year 3), and 1948 (postfire year 12). Immediately following the fire, plots were classified as heavy burn, moderate burn, light burn, and unburned. Heavy burning was described as a fire that consumed the trunk or main stem of basin big sagebrush. Moderate burning was a fire that consumed smaller branches and twigs, with larger branches of basin big sagebrush remaining. Light burning was a fire that consumed only the leaves of basin big sagebrush. To allow for rapid field identification, the researchers grouped plains reedgrass and thickspike wheatgrass together. The trends in production resulting from burning treatments are shown in the table below. Postfire production is expressed as a percentage of production on unburned range. Plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass production was less than in unburned range in postfire year 1, but exceeded production on unburned range in postfire year 3 and postfire year 12 [12,13].
|Treatment||1937 (postfire year 1)||1939 (postfire year 3)||1948 (postfire year 12)|
In postfire year 12, air-dry herbage production of plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass was measured on unburned, light burned, moderate burned, and heavy burned sites. Plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass production was positively affected by increased fire severity [12,13]. The following table describes air-dry herbage production of plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass on the 4 treatments at postfire year 12 [12,13]:
By 1966 (postfire year 30), plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass air-dry herbage production on unburned sites was greater than on burned sites [12,13]. Harniss and Murray  returned to the burn site 30 years after the fire and found that plains reedgrass/thickspike wheatgrass production on unburned sites was 152 pounds/acre and 92 pounds/acre on burned sites. In their study, Harniss and Murray did not differentiate between light, moderate, and heavy burn sites .FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Burning season: In the northern Great Plains, best increases in seed production, vigor, and canopy cover of cool-season grasses are obtained when prescription fires are conducted in early spring (March-April) or late summer (August-September) . In sagebrush-grasslands, burning favors rhizomatous species such as plains reedgrass if fires are conducted when rhizomatous plants are dormant [12,19].
Grazing: Burned rangelands containing plains reedgrass should be protected from grazing during postfire year 1 to allow for uninterrupted growth of herbaceous vegetation [12,19].
Invasive species: Improper fire management may convert desirable shrub and perennial grass stands to annual grass and invasive shrub stands [93,96]. Wright and others  suggest that if fires occur in big sagebrush-grasslands at frequencies of less than every 50 years, the communities may become dominated by rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) and gray horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens), sprouting species that respond vigorously to fire. Cheatgrass may also expand after fire and severely reduce native plant coverage [71,93,96].Sagebrush-grassland communities: Plains reedgrass occurs in sagebrush-grasslands with species that can be harmed by fire . June or July fires can be especially harmful to Idaho fescue and needle-and-thread grass [12,96]. Threadleaf sedge (Carex filifolia), which has a compact growth form, is also harmed by fire . Big sagebrush is slow to recover from extensive fires .
In a cattle grazing study on western Montana rangelands, plains reedgrass was slightly to moderately grazed in needle-and-thread grass-blue grama communities, moderately to heavily grazed in bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama communities, moderately grazed in bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass communities, and slightly to heavily grazed in rough fescue (Festuca altaica)-bluebunch wheatgrass communities .
Plains reedgrass-prairie Junegrass grasslands along the east slope of the Rocky Mountains in Alberta are heavily grazed by elk and bighorn sheep in spring, fall, and winter [5,83].
Palatability/nutritional value: Plains reedgrass has coarse leaves, making it less palatable than most prairie species in its range . The palatability of plains reedgrass is rated as follows [30,67]:
Early in the growing season, plains reedgrass is considered high in nutritional value, but deteriorates by mid-summer . During the growing seasons 1946 and 1947, the average moisture and nutritive content of plains reedgrass was measured at Dickinson Experiment Station in western North Dakota. The moisture, carotene, protein, and phosphorus values for plains reedgrass were on average lower than the upland cool season species western wheatgrass, needle-and-thread grass, threadleaf sedge, and prairie Junegrass .
|Carotene (mg/100 g.)||25.8||23.2||12.0||5.8||4.6|
|Crude protein (%)||14.3||12.8||8.4||6.0||5.5|
Cover value: Plains reedgrass provides cover for ungulates, small mammals, and birds. The cover value for plains reedgrass for wildlife species is rated as follows :
|Small nongame birds||fair||----||----|
|Upland game birds||fair||----||----|
Plains reedgrass provides cover for greater sage-grouse on dry upland sagebrush communities of southwestern Colorado  and eastern Idaho .VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Grazing: Plains reedgrass both increased and decreased under cattle grazing pressure in the mixed-grass prairies of southwestern North Dakota. On 2 study sites, Sagebrush Flat and East Tracy Mountain, mean aboveground biomass was 41.6 g/m² and 0.7 g/m² on grazed plots and 101.7 g/m² and 1.3 g/m² on ungrazed plots, respectively. At West Tracy Mountain and Sandy Upland, mean aboveground biomass was substantially lower on ungrazed (0.1 g/m² and <0.1 g/m², respectively) than grazed (6.7 g/m² and 1.5 g/m², respectively) plots [16,17]. At the Dickinson Experimental Station in the North Dakota mixed-grass prairie, plains reedgrass was not found on ungrazed sites, but made up 16% of vegetation on livestock grazed sites . A further study in North Dakota found a slight increase of plains reedgrass on cattle grazed sites (0.3% basal cover) compared to ungrazed sites (0.1% basal cover) .
Plains reedgrass both significantly (p<0.01) increased and decreased under cattle and domestic sheep grazing pressure on the Vigilante Experimental Range in southwestern Montana. In an Idaho fescue-thickspike wheatgrass-plains reedgrass community, plains reedgrass averaged 8.9 stems/cm² on grazed sites and 15.2/cm² on sites protected from grazing for 26 years. In a Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda) community, plains reedgrass stem density on grazed sites was 14.6/cm² and 6.7/cm² on sites protected from grazing for 15 to 18 years . On both sites, grazing caused a significant (p<0.01) decrease in the mature height of plains reedgrass. In the Idaho fescue-thickspike wheatgrass-plains reedgrass community, the average mature height measured 5.6 inches (14.3 cm) on grazed plots and 7.2 inches (18.4 cm) on ungrazed plots. In the Sandberg bluegrass community, the average mature height of plains reedgrass was 4.9 inches (12.4 cm) on grazed plots and 5.6 inches (14.2 cm) on ungrazed plots .
Zacek and others  describe plains reedgrass as an "increaser" on grazed range sites in the foothills and mountains of western Montana. Lacey and Mosley  describes plains reedgrass as an "increaser" on Montana rangelands. On the northern Great Plains, plains reedgrass both increased and decreased when subjected to grazing pressures .
Domestic sheep grazing on a ranch in Meagher County, Montana, caused a decrease in plains reedgrass cover (%), herbage yield, leaf growth, and seed stalk growth. Cover of plains reedgrass on protected and grazed sites in 1953 and 1957 ranged from 0.4% to 1.5%. In 1957, average herbage yield of plains reedgrass was 70 lbs/acre on protected sites and 50 lbs/acre on grazed sites. Plains reedgrass average longest leaf and tallest seed stalk was 6 inches (15 cm) and 9 inches (24 cm) on protected sites and 5 inches (12 cm) and 8 inches (21 cm) on grazed sites, respectively .Herbicides: Carr  discusses the effect of 2,4-D on plains reedgrass.
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