SPECIES: Leymus cinereus


INTRODUCTORY

SPECIES: Leymus cinereus
photo courtesy of
Plants Database [122]
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Anderson, Michelle D. 2002. Leymus cinereus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ [].

FEIS ABBREVIATION:
LEYCIN

SYNONYMS:
Elymus cinereus Scribn. and Merr. [32,38,39,67,68,74,84,132]

NRCS PLANT CODE [122]:
LECI4

COMMON NAMES:
basin wildrye
Great Basin wildrye
giant wildrye
Great Basin lyme grass

TAXONOMY:
The currently accepted scientific name of basin wildrye is Leymus cinereus (Scribn. & Merr.) A. Love (Poaceae) [17,58,66,73,130,131].

Experiments have been conducted crossing basin wildrye with Altai wildrye (L. angustus) [36]. Basin wildrye forms natural hybrids with Salina wildrye (L. salinus) [132], beardless wildrye (L. triticoides) [66,132], and bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) [132].

LIFE FORM:
Graminoid

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status

OTHER STATUS:
No entry


DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Leymus cinereus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:
Basin wildrye occurs from Saskatchewan to British Columbia, south to California, northern Arizona and New Mexico, and east to South Dakota and Minnesota [32,38,39,58,66,67,73,74,84,130,131,132]. Basin wildrye is extirpated from Nebraska [73]. Plants Database provides a distributional map of basin wildrye.

ECOSYSTEMS [52]:
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands

STATES:
AZ CA CO ID MN
MT NV NM OR SD
UT WA WY
AB BC SK

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [20]:
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
14 Great Plains
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

KUCHLER [80] PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K030 California oakwoods
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K065 Grama-buffalo grass
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalo grass

SAF COVER TYPES [43]:
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
210 Interior Douglas-fir
217 Aspen
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
222 Black cottonwood-willow
235 Cottonwood-willow
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [114]:
101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
106 Bluegrass scabland
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
210 Bitterbrush
216 Montane meadows
301 Bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
305 Idaho fescue-Richardson needlegrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
414 Salt desert shrub
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
420 Snowbrush
421 Chokecherry-serviceberry-rose
422 Riparian
501 Saltbush-greasewood
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
609 Wheatgrass-grama
610 Wheatgrass
611 Blue grama-buffalo grass
612 Sagebrush-grass
614 Crested wheatgrass
615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
Black greasewood/basin wildrye community, Lassen County, California. Photo courtesy of the PRBO Conservation Science Shrubsteppe Monitoring Program.

In addition to occurring in a variety of plant community types, basin wildrye may form nearly pure stands [70,127]. On sites in Utah, it may constitute 76% cover (out of 91% total plant cover) [127].

Tree and shrub codominants occurring with basin wildrye include singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla), Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus), longflower snowberry (Symphoricarpos longiflorus), black greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), basin big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. tridentata), mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. vaseyana), Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. wyomingensis), and low sagebrush (A. arbuscula) [21,22,70,70,91,93,120,133].

Grass codominants occurring with basin wildrye include saltgrass (Distichlis stricta), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), California brome (Bromus carinatus), and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda) [21,34,70,91].

Classifications describing plant communities in which basin wildrye is a dominant species are as follows:

Idaho [70]
Montana [59,93]
Nevada [21,22,91,133]
Utah [133]
Washington [34]
Wyoming [120,126]

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Leymus cinereus
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Basin wildrye is the largest cool-season perennial bunchgrass native to the western United States [1,5,6,27,82]. It forms large clumps, but may have short rhizomes [17,32,82]. Basin wildrye reaches basal diameters of 2 to 4 feet (0.6-1.2 m) [32,71,92] and grows up to 6.5 (2 m) tall [6,16,17,27,31,32,58,82,92,132]. Leaves grow to 0.8 inch (2 cm) wide [71,92]. The spikes (seedheads) of basin wildrye grow 4 to 11.5 inches (10-29 cm) long, with 16 to 35 nodes [17,27,32,67,132]. There are 2 to 7 spikelets per node [17,27,32,58,132], growing 0.35 to 0.75 inch (9-19 mm) long and having 3 to 7 florets each [17,32,132].

Basin wildrye has high photosynthetic capacity and high nitrogen-use efficiency [5].

Basin wildrye has an extensive soil-binding, fibrous root system [129]. Abbott and others [1] found that basin wildrye tends to root deeper in undisturbed soil (rooting depth of 39 inches or 100 cm) than in disturbed soil (rooting depth of 30 inches or 75 cm). Reynolds and Fraley [103], however, found that basin wildrye rooted to 79 inches (200 cm) in disturbed soils and to 63 inches (160 cm) in undisturbed soils. Basin wildrye reaches maximum lateral root spread of 39 inches (100 cm) [1,103] at approximately 16 inches (40 cm) deep [103].

The Manual of the Grasses of the United States [67] provides a morphological description and identification key for basin wildrye.

RAUNKIAER [101] LIFE FORM:
Hemicryptophyte
Geophyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:
Basin wildrye reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes [92].

Breeding system: No information

Seed production: Basin wildrye is attacked by a variety of insects, potentially reducing both forage and seed production [139]. In particular, the wheat stem sawfly reduces seed weight and production but not germination rates [138].

Seed dispersal: No information

Seed banking: No information

Germination: Basin wildrye is primarily spring emerging, even though seed is nondormant at dispersal (July-August). Chilling rather than dry afterripening readies seeds for rapid emergence, effectively limiting emergence to spring [88]. Basin wildrye seeds germinate more quickly after a 2-week chilling treatment (mean germination time of 2-11 days) than with no treatment (mean germination time of 6-16 days). Its failure to germinate quickly as a consequence of time in dry storage protects basin wildrye from fall emergence, though it is quick to emerge in early spring [88]. Seed viability ranges from 5 to 60%, with most seed lots falling in the 30 to 40% range [134]. Though basin wildrye is tolerant of arid soils, low soil water potential may decrease seed hydration and germination rates [110,136]. The 'Magnar' cultivar germinates at lower water potential than most wild basin wildrye types [110].

Big sagebrush may inhibit germination of basin wildrye through allelopathic effects. Laboratory aerial exposure of basin wildrye seeds to uncrushed big sagebrush leaves and aqueous extracts from big sagebrush leaves decreased germination rates. Exposure to crushed big sagebrush leaves decreased germination rates, radicle length, and shoot height of basin wildrye [54].

Seedling establishment/growth: Basin wildrye seedlings demonstrate fair vigor [129] and are generally slow to develop and establish [16,69]. Stands of basin wildrye may establish by the 2nd or 3rd growing season [129]. Seedling establishment of basin wildrye may be reduced by a combination of saline soils and hard soil crusts. According to laboratory experiments evaluating osmotic potential and 0.12-inch- (3 mm) thick soft, medium, and hard wax crusts, increased salinity reduces basin wildrye seedling vigor and inhibits seedling ability to penetrate soil crusts [46]. Plants growing on saline, alkaline soils produce seeds ill adapted for growth in that type of environment. Field studies in Nevada found that seedling emergence and growth on saline, alkaline soils were better with seeds collected from plants growing on nonalkaline soils than from those growing on saline, alkaline soils [136].

Basin wildrye seedlings may be sensitive to boron, which is found on many arid, saline soils. Basin wildrye seeded on soils high in soluble salts, exchangeable sodium, and boron may be unsuccessful unless irrigated. Without irrigation, a study in Nevada found 70-80% germination with no seedling survival [118]. Excessive boron concentrations (22 and 37 ppm) reduce 'Magnar' cultivar seedling growth and survival, though not seedling emergence [109]. 'Magnar' cultivars grown in moderately saline soil require frequent moisture from April through June to produce an "acceptable" (>2 seedlings/m of row) stand of seedlings. More seedlings established on nonsaline plots [108]. Irrigation may increase seedling survival by lowering water stress and by diluting and leaching salts from the soil [118].

Asexual regeneration: Basin wildrye reproduces from tillers and short rhizomes [17,32,66,82,92]. Vegetative reproduction of basin wildrye may be more important than reproduction by seed [138], though some authors report it relies primarily on recruitment from seed for stand replacement and expansion [88].

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Basin wildrye grows on sites subject to environmental extremes: freezing and thawing as well a saturated soils in spring followed by hot, desiccated soils in summer [6,27,72].

Elevation: The general elevation range of basin wildrye is 1,970 to 9,840 feet (600-3,000 m) [27,66]. It grows at 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300-600 m) in drainage basins and up to almost 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in mountains [66,129,132]. The elevation distribution of basin wildrye is presented by state in the following table:

State Elevation References
California <9,840 (3,000 m) [66]
Idaho 4,920 feet (1,500 m) [6]
Montana 3,500-7,500 feet (1,060-2,300 m) [113]
Nevada 5,200-8,400 feet (1,600-2,600 m) [21,22,91]
New Mexico 5,000-8,000 feet (1,500-2,400 m) [84]
Utah 2,590-9,515 feet (790-2,900 m) [12,132]
Wyoming 3,000-6,770 feet (915-2,060 m) [15,120,126]

Climate: Basin wildrye generally requires at least 8 inches (200 mm) of precipitation per year [35], but may be adapted to sites receiving 5 to 20 inches (130-500 mm) [16,27,116]. A breakdown of annual average precipitation by state is found below:

State Average Annual Precipitation References
Idaho 8.8 inches (224 mm), 36% during April-June [6]
Montana <13 inches (330) [69]
Nevada 11.4 inches (290 mm) [21,22]
Utah 9 to 17 inches (230-430 mm) [12,121]
Wyoming 5 to 19 inches (130-220 mm) [15]

Basin wildrye grows at locations experiencing 3 to 4 frost-free months [6,12,15].

Topography: Basin wildrye is found on dry to moist sites [132], often occurring on bottomlands and uplands where lateral drainage and soil water are high [4,33,69,92,113,116,129]. Basin wildrye is commonly found on floodplains [25,82], prairies and foothills [27,132] with gentle to moderate slopes [127], and along streams, gullies, and roadsides [17,27,32,66,68,92,113,132].

Soils: Basin wildrye is commonly found on low lying areas with deep [1,6,27,30,113,127], well-drained soil [27,82,127], though it may also grow on poorly drained soil [120]. Basin wildrye may be intolerant of shallow soils and does not perform well on deep, coarse soils, though it is adapted to a wide range of other soil types [33,116]. It is found on fine-textured [82,129], calcareous clay soils with claypan layers around 17 inches (43 cm) deep [12], and on sandy to gravelly soils [16,17,25,68,129]. It experiences optimal growth on silty and clayey soils [129]. Soil depths on basin wildrye sites range from 12.5 to 27.5 inches (32-70 cm) [25]. Basin wildrye generally prefers deeper soils with higher effective rooting depth and/or greater effective moisture content than adjacent areas [33]. A field study in Colorado found that basin wildrye produces more biomass on sites with topsoil depth of 24 inches (60 cm) than on soil depths of 6, 12, or 18 inches (15,30, 45 cm) [102].

Basin wildrye's size and annual production suggest high seasonal water use [1,6]. However, basin wildrye has high water-use efficiency, making it tolerant of water stress [5,27]. Basin wildrye maintains its growth into the dry summer months as long as moisture remains available [5], actively photosynthesizing and transpiring after seed ripening [6]. Established stands of basin wildrye can survive long periods of summer drought [56]. Bain wildrye is also tolerant of acidity, alkalinity, and salinity [16,25,27,56,69,82,89,92,113,116,120,129]. Though well adapted to saline, arid soils, basin wildrye may require supplemental irrigation to establish from seed [108]. In laboratory experiments, basin wildrye was less tolerant of salinity at germination than at the seedling stage of development, provided salinization was gradual. Abrupt increases in salinity may result in death regardless of developmental stage [28]. Though plants survived soil osmotic potential down to -3.5 mP, the 'Magnar' cultivar of basin wildrye grown in salinized greenhouse cultures demonstrated reduced root and shoot growth and grew very little at soil osmotic potential below -1 mP [107].

Basin wildrye may also be abundant on sites with high potassium concentrations [127].

SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:
Basin wildrye is tolerant of partial shade in shrublands and woodlands [129]. It grows on both disturbed and undisturbed soils [1,6,103]. Basin wildrye occurs after disturbance, in secondary succession, and also in climax communities [4,33,127,128,140]. It may be a major component of the dominant grass and forb stage that develops shortly after fire in pinyon-juniper communities [95], and once established may dominate a site [127].

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:
As a cool-season grass, basin wildrye experiences early spring growth [56] and flowers in early to midsummer [84,88]. With abundant spring moisture, basin wildrye quickly advances through maturity [50]. Lower-elevation populations ripen seed in early July while seed of higher montane populations may not be ripe until late September [88]. Basin wildrye is dispersed in July and August [88], becoming dormant in late summer [5].

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Leymus cinereus
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Fire adaptations: The coarseness of basin wildrye foliage resists prolonged burning, allowing plants to avoid exposure of their basal growing points to sustained heating. Plants sprout from surviving root crowns and rhizomes [24]. Basin wildrye is more likely to survive and resprout following late season fire, when it is dormant, than at any other point in the growing season [100,141].

Fire regimes: Sagebrush, desert shrub, and grassland communities with a basin wildrye component historically experienced mostly infrequent to frequent, stand-replacing fires. Sagebrush communities experienced fire intervals of 20 to 70 years, while desert shrub community fire intervals ranged from 35 to 100 years. Grassland vegetation types experienced both short fire intervals of less than 35 years as well as intervals ranging from 35 to 100 years, depending on climate and ignition sources [96]. Forest and woodland communities with a basin wildrye component historically experienced understory or mixed-severity fire regimes with varying fire return intervals [8,96]. Fire regimes for plant communities and ecosystems in which basin wildrye is an important component of the vegetation are summarized below. For further information, see the FEIS summary of the dominant plant species.

Community or Ecosystem Dominant Species Fire Return Interval Range (years)
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [96]
basin big sagebrush A. t. var. tridentata 12-43 [111]
mountain big sagebrush A. t. var. vaseyana 15-40 [9,26,90]
Wyoming big sagebrush A. t. var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [123,135]
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus < 35 to < 100 
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 5-100 
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35 
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass B. gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35 
blue grama-buffalo grass B. gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35 [96]
curlleaf mountain-mahogany* Cercocarpus ledifolius 13-1000 [11,112]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub C. ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100 
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70 
Rocky Mountain juniper J. scopulorum < 35 
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 35 
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [96]
Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine* P. contorta var. latifolia 25-300+ [7,8,106]
Colorado pinyon P. edulis 10-49 [96]
interior ponderosa pine* P. ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [8,14,81]
galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea < 35 to < 100 
eastern cottonwood Populus deltoides < 35 to 200 [96]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) P. tremuloides 7-120 [8,55,87]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [7,8]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [8,9,10]
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Quercus-Juniperus spp. < 35 to < 200 [96]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary
**mean

POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [117]:
Tussock graminoid
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Leymus cinereus
 
Igniting basin wildrye. Photo courtesy of the National Interagency Fire Center's Image Portal

IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Basin wildrye is top-killed by fire [100,137,141].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
Older basin wildrye plants with large proportions of dead material within the perennial crown can be expected to show higher mortality due to fire than younger plants having little debris [100,141]. Basin wildrye is generally tolerant of fire but may be damaged by early-season fire combined with dry soil conditions [129].

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Basin wildrye has high survival rates following fire due to resprouting from the surviving root crown and rhizomes [24,76,100,128,137,141]. It recovers rapidly, especially after dormant-season fires [24]. Basin wildrye is well adapted to fire, growing vigorously after burning when moisture is adequate [18,30,42,62,77,78], and increasing in percent cover [76]. Annual biomass production may increase following fire for several years [18]. Basin wildrye is stimulated to flower after burning [2,3].

Basin wildrye may respond to "fire cues" like smoke. Treatment of basin wildrye seeds with the smoke of burning big sagebrush can significantly increase (p<0.10) leaf elongation rates and new leaf production compared with controls. After 83 days of growth, smoke-treated seeds produce significantly greater (p<0.05) plant mass than nontreated seeds [23].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
No entry

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
A study conducted at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho offers an example of fuels distribution in basin wildrye-dominated communities containing some big sagebrush and rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus). These communities had fuel loads of 90 pounds/acre (495 kg/ha) and 210 pounds/acre (1,150 kg/ha) for Class 3 (1-3 inches or 2.5-7.5 cm) and Class 4 (>3 inches or 7.5 cm) fuels, respectively. Sites had 72% perennial grass cover with 735 pounds/acre (4,040 kg/ha) herbage production and 2,030 pounds/acre (11,160 kg/ha) litter production annually [18].

Fire may create openings in basin wildrye stands, providing an opportunity for Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) to establish and spread in these communities [18].

Burning may enhance basin wildrye growth. In a Nevada study, basin wildrye showed an increasing trend in percent cover over 2 years following dormant-season burns [128]. In Oregon, basin wildrye shoot density, herbage production, and the proportion of reproductive shoots increased for 2 years following dormant-season (winter and early spring) burning [137].

Basin wildrye may resprout rapidly after fire, regardless of fire severity. In a Nevada study of a few individual plants, basin wildrye resprouted in the 1st growing season following both low- and high-severity prescribed burns [100].

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Leymus cinereus
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
The early growth and abundant production of basin wildrye may make it a valuable source of forage for livestock and wildlife [30]. It is important forage for cattle [41] and is readily grazed by cattle and horses in early spring and fall [56]. Though unpalatable during the winter, basin wildrye may be utilized more frequently by livestock and wildlife when snow has covered low shrubs and other grasses [31,83]. It has been identified as valuable winter forage [69,82,83]. However, cattle weight may decrease during use of basin wildrye [82].

Basin wildrye provides winter forage for elk and mule deer, though use is often low compared to other native grasses [13,83,116]. Trace amounts of basin wildrye may be present in the winter diet of bighorn sheep [75].

Basin wildrye provides summer forage for black-tailed jackrabbits [44]. Because basin wildrye remains green throughout early summer, it remains available for small mammal (vole) forage for a longer time than other grasses and may influence the population dispersion of those small mammals by providing preferred habitat [19].

The 'Magnar' and 'Trailhead' cultivars of basin wildrye may be only "lightly foraged" or "avoided" by black-tailed jackrabbits [48], cattle [51], and domestic goats [49].

Palatability/nutritional value: Basin wildrye is most palatable during the spring [71], and is fairly palatable to unpalatable for livestock during the winter grazing season [31,71]. Palatability of basin wildrye for livestock is rated as follows [37]:

  Colorado Montana Utah Wyoming
Cattle fair good good good
Domestic sheep fair fair fair good
Horse fair good good good

Some authors describe basin wildrye as "high quality" forage, at least until mid-August [50], while others describe basin wildrye as deficient in phosphorus, carotene, and digestible protein [31,119]. In the northern Great Basin of Oregon, basin wildrye may have up to 25% crude protein content in spring and sustain that level until late September. However, with abundant spring moisture, basin wildrye quickly advances through maturity, potentially resulting in crude protein deficient forage by late summer [50].

The nutrient content of basin wildrye leaves and terminal stems at different times in the growing season is presented below [31]:

  Ether extract Total protein Lignin Cellulose Other carbohydrates Calcium Phosphorus Gross energy Carotene
 
percent
Cal./pound
mg/pound
February 4.0 3.0 9.4 37.4 33.5 0.93 0.06 1,869 0.0
September 2.5 3.3 6.7 41.4 36.5 0.37 0.05 1,846 ---

Crude protein, moisture, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, potassium, and magnesium content of basin wildrye generally decrease with plant maturity through the growing season [94,119]. Calcium increases until midsummer, then decreases while crude fiber increases over the growing season [119]. Shading of basin wildrye by 75% may increase potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chlorine, sulfur, and nitrogen content over plants grown in 100% full sunlight [85].

Cover value: Basin wildrye provides nesting cover for waterfowl [63] and upland game birds [129], including ring-necked pheasants [116]. The old stems of basin wildrye augmented by new growth afford fair protection [63]. Deer also utilize basin wildrye for bedding cover [116].

Cover value of basin wildrye has been rated as follows [37]:

  Montana Utah Wyoming
Elk -- fair poor
Mule deer -- fair fair
White-tailed deer -- -- fair
Pronghorn -- fair poor
Upland game bird fair good good
Waterfowl -- fair fair
Small nongame bird poor good good
Small mammal poor good good

VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Basin wildrye is useful in mine reclamation [45,104,105], fire rehabilitation [104], and stabilizing disturbed areas [99,129]. Its usefulness in range seeding, however, may be limited by initially weak stand establishment [47].

Priming, a technique by which seeds are partially hydrated to a point where germination processes begin but radicle emergence does not occur, may be used to improve basin wildrye germination [61]. Priming of seeds can significantly (p<0.05) enhance germination rates of basin wildrye, increasing rates from 59% (unprimed) to 73% (primed) [60]. Priming may also reduce the number of days required for seeds to germinate; treatment for 8 days at 25 oC reduced the amount of time required to obtain 50% seed germination from 14.8 to 11.4 days [61]. Low-altitude sources of seed may have a broader usefulness in establishing stands of basin wildrye. Seeds from low altitude sources produce more seedheads than those from high altitude sources at lower altitude planting sites, while both sources produce approximately the same amount of seed heads at higher altitude planting sites [57].

Native seed sources [86] and commercial cultivars (e.g. 'Magnar', 'Trailhead') of basin wildrye are available and useful for site reclamation [27,35,65]. In revegetation attempts, yield, viability, and germination of native stands of basin wildrye may be low [41]. Germination of cultivars is generally high compared to native seeds, which generally have germination rates of 35 to 40% [41]. The estimated germination percentage of 'Magnar' cultivar seeds after 1 to 2 weeks incubation at optimum temperature regimes is presented below [41]:

Cold period
(16 hr)
Warm period (8 hr)
  15 oC 20 oC 25 oC
10 oC 86 91 87
15 oC 92 97 93
20 oC -- 97 93
25 oC -- -- 87

In this study, germination of the cultivar seeds was increasingly delayed at colder, warmer, or widely fluctuating temperature regimes [41].

Basin wildrye may be planted in either the spring or fall [35].

Transplant survival of basin wildrye may be as high as 85 to 90%, though plants may suffer considerable shock during the 1st growing season following transplant. Plants generally experience vigorous growth by the 2nd post-transplant season [6,115] and are able to extract water from depths to 6.5 feet (2 m) [115].

OTHER USES:
Basin wildrye was used as bedding for various Native American ceremonies, providing a cool place for dancers to stand [64].

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Basin wildrye responds well to irrigation and nitrogen fertilizers [56].

Basin wildrye is intolerant of heavy or repeated grazing [69,71,92,113,120,129,140], especially if grazed before reaching maturity [92]. Cutting and grazing of basin wildrye in early spring may be particularly detrimental [79,116,120]. Removal of 25, 50 75, or 100% of basin wildrye herbage during spring in Montana reduces total season yields and yields the following year. Greater reductions in growth correspond to increases in herbage removed, especially when sites are cut during the boot stage, the period of rapid elongation of growing points that occurs from growth onset through full bloom. In addition, no more than 50% of herbage should be utilized prior to the boot stage [79].

Clipping height and frequency have more influence on seasonal dry matter yields of basin wildrye than time of clipping during the growing season. At sites in Montana, 3-week clipping frequencies (compared with 6- or 9-week frequencies) reduced dry matter yields the most, as did clipping to 6 inches (15 cm) compared with clipping to 12 or 18 inches (30 or 45 cm). The greatest decrease in dry matter was in those plants clipped to 6 inches (15 cm) at 3-week intervals. After 4 years, all treatments resulted in decreased dry matter yields [98].

Severe depletion of carbohydrate reserves may occur after clipping basin wildrye and is potentially related to the species sensitivity to grazing. In a study of clipping treatments, basin wildrye clipped to 4 inches (10 cm) resulted in substantially lower total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC) reserves than clipping to 12 inches (30 cm). Plants clipped to 12 inches (30 cm) are also more likely to regain their prior-to-clipping TNC levels. In control treatments, TNC of unclipped plants decreased in June then steadily increased through the summer [97].

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