SPECIES: Pascopyrum smithii
Ecotypes of western wheatgrass vary in forage and seed production characteristics and in color, coarseness, and competitiveness .LIFE FORM:
Western wheatgrass is a codominant or indicator in many habitat types in sagebrush-grassland, pinyon-juniper (Pinus ssp.)-(Juniperus ssp.), and Rocky mountain juniper (J. scopulorum) types [81,102]. It is of major importance in the central and northern Great Plains grassland where it is commonly associated with blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), sideoats grama (B. curtipendula), alkali sacaton (Sporobolus airoides), buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), prairie junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), needle and thread grass (Hesperostipa comata), green needlegrass (Nassella viridula), and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) .
Western wheatgrass occurs with a number of shrubs including big sagebrush (A. tridentata), bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) .On the sagebrush rangeland of the Intermountain area, western wheatgrass is often mixed with bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) and thickspike wheatgrass . In northern mixed-grass prairies, western wheatgrass occurs as a dominant with needle-and-thread grass, blue grama, and bluestems [49,52]. Publications using western wheatgrass in vegetation classifications are listed below:
Western wheatgrass is one of the primary grasses eaten by cattle in New Mexico and in central and eastern Montana [4,95]. It provides important domestic sheep forage in southeastern Montana, particularly during June, July, and August . Fall regrowth cures well on the stem, so western wheatgrass is considered good winter forage for domestic livestock .
Bison feed on western wheatgrass in the Great Plains; it is preferred by bison to blue grama in northeastern Colorado [74,112,142]. Western wheatgrass makes up a higher percentage of bison diets on heavily grazed ranges than on lightly grazed sites . In Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, elk consume western wheatgrass during the fall, winter, spring, and summer . It is eaten by white-tailed deer in eastern and central Montana, with heaviest use during the spring .
Western wheatgrass is used by various small mammals. It is heavily used by pocket gophers from May through September . It is also heavily grazed by black-tailed prairie dogs in South Dakota .PALATABILITY:
CO MT ND UT WY Cattle Good Good Good Good Good Domestic sheep Fair Fair Fair Fair Good Horses Good Good Good Good Good Pronghorn ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair Elk ---- Good ---- Fair Good Mule deer ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair Small mammals ---- Poor Poor Good Fair Small nongame birds ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair Upland game birds ---- ---- Poor Fair Fair Waterfowl ---- ---- Good Fair FairNUTRITIONAL VALUE:
However, protein content varies by plant part and by seasonal development. Protein content peaks during the period of most rapid growth in the southern plains (usually in April) and is generally lowest at or just after the end of flowering . Specific crude protein values are as follows :
early May 31.6% regrowth in early July 13.0% late 1st harvest early July 9.8% 1st harvest late July 7.9%In-vitro digestible dry matter by season is as follows :
initial harvest early May 74.5% initial harvest mid May 76% late 1st harvest early July 59% 1st harvest late July 54%In a Wyoming study, calcium and magnesium content did not increase with maturity and the iron content remained fairly constant during the growing season, but manganese increased after September 30th and phosphorus became deficient prior to August 17th. Crude protein content declined steadily from 14.5% on June 29th to 4.7% by October 29th .
Protein content per gram is greater in the tops, roots, and rhizomes of clipped plants than in nonclipped plants; the soluble sugars and starch per gram are less in clipped plants. Recovery and growth of plant tops is prevented by frequent removal of vegetation [65,50]. The nutrient quality of plants can also be altered by defoliation by grasshoppers. Severe defoliation can produce decreased foliar nitrogen and carbohydrates, and can increase phenolic concentrations .COVER VALUE:
MT ND UT WY Pronghorn Poor Fair Poor Poor Elk Poor ---- Poor Poor Mule deer Poor Fair Poor Poor White-tailed deer Poor Fair ---- Poor Small mammals Fair Good Fair Good Small nongame birds Fair Good Fair Good Upland game birds Fair Good Poor Fair Waterfowl Good Good Poor FairVALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Since rhizomes may persist in land broken for cultivation, western wheatgrass spreads rapidly on abandoned land [121,153]. In Wyoming and Montana, western wheatgrass is one of the most promising grasses for reclaiming saline seeps, as well as other problem sites . In Nebraska and Saskatchewan, it shows potential value for controlling wind erosion in sand blowouts or on dunes [67,103,126]. Western wheatgrass is used for roadside revegetation at "higher elevations" in Arizona, and along roadsides in Iowa [24,47].
In Arizona, successful coal-mine reclamation included the use of fertilizers, a combination of natural rainfall and sprinkler irrigation for the first 2 years, and seeding perennial grasses including western wheatgrass, crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), and Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) . The effects of 3 soil materials, 3 mulching treatments, and 2 soil moisture treatments on the growth and forage production of western wheatgrass when used in the reclamation of coal mine spoils were investigated during a 3-year experiment in Arizona. Average stems per pot and dry forage yield per pot for western wheatgrass were determined for all treatment combinations. The highest number of stems per plot, the tallest plants, and the highest forage yield were produced with Gila loam soil, barley straw mulch, and soil moisture treatment with maximum production. More vigorous plants and more forage were produced when soil mulch was used than when soils were not mulched .
Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae are a common component of arid soils. They usually increase nutrient and water intake, as well as increasing the dry mass of plants. The disturbance of land often leads to the reduction or elimination of mycorrhizal fungi propagules. Workers investigating the development of vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae and proliferation of roots of western wheatgrass in a revegetated mine spoil in southeastern Wyoming found that western wheatgrass was not highly dependent on mycorrhizal infection for survival . Researchers at the Kemmerer Coal Mine in southwestern Wyoming found that mycorrhizae benefited western wheatgrass .
Western wheatgrass can be successfully drilled or broadcast seeded [5,88]. It can be successfully seeded during the spring or fall . Numerous cultivars, adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions, are available for commercial use [7,10,53,79,121,139].OTHER USES AND VALUES:
Western wheatgrass is susceptible to grasshopper damage during moderate to heavy infestations. In prolonged wet periods, forage quality is decreased from ergot, as well as leaf and stem rusts .
In some instances large increases in western wheatgrass have been reported after herbicide application. In a Wyoming study, increases of 260% were reported within 2 years of herbicide applications, with increases of 490 to 720% live canopy cover reported during the 7th year after application . Detailed information on response to various herbicides is available [114,167].In North Dakota, western wheatgrass produces approximately 1/3rd of its annual yield prior to May 20th. The bulk of production occurs from May 20th to June 30th .
Rhizomes lie 0.5 to 2 inches (1.3-5 cm) below the soil surface. The highly branched root system may penetrate the soil to a depth of 7 feet (21 m). In the deep rich soils of eastern Nebraska and Kansas, roots may extend as deep as 11.8 feet (3.6 m). Root extensions in more arid eastern Colorado may extend downward to depths of only 4.9 feet (1.5 m) . In dry grasslands of Montana, only 6% of the roots of western wheatgrass were observed in the top 0 to 0.5 inch (0-1 cm) soil layer.
Longevity of western wheatgrass roots was studied
by banding roots of plants grown in containers from seed. In
the second year 55 and 60% of the banded roots were dead.
By the end of the second summer
western wheatgrass roots had a survival of 42% . Zhang
and Romo  report tiller longevity of 2 to 3 years
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
Western wheatgrass regenerates vegetatively through rhizomes to form uniform stands . It also spreads via seeds. A limited seed supply usually matures late, but this is offset by reproduction from rootstocks . Stands are slow to develop from seed , but once established are vigorous, hardy, and drought resistant. Seeds germinate slowly, but a fairly uniform sod is usually obtained within 2-3 years .
Western wheatgrass exhibits a low and much-delayed germination at 66 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit (19-2 oC) [26,114,145]. Germination is most successful with alternating temperatures of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 oC) and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 oC) . Light does not affect germination [122,141].
Peak germination response for western wheatgrass was 94% at 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.5 oC) for 8 hours and 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 oC) for 16 hours. The mean germination time was 11.8 days. In constant temperature without light, germination percentages decrease [93,122].SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Western wheatgrass commonly grows on medium to heavy textured soils . It can grow on even heavy gumbo soils, but does poorly on sand [9,130]. In parts of Colorado, western wheatgrass grows on clayey soils with an average pH of 7.78 .Western wheatgrass is highly tolerant of saline to alkali soils . Western wheatgrass is adapted to areas that receive 14 to 35 inches (360-870 mm) of average annual precipitation .
Elevational ranges vary as follows :
3,600 to 10,000 feet (1098-3049 m) in Colorado 2,400 to 3,600 feet (732-1098 m) in Montana 4,200 to 7,500 feet (1280-2677 m) in Utah 3,400 to 8,200 feet (1037-2500 m) in WyomingSUCCESSIONAL STATUS:
Western wheatgrass grows in a variety of successional stages in sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) communities. It has been described as a "mid-seral species" in semi-arid sagebrush communities of northwestern Colorado. In these sagebrush communities, annual forbs dominate disturbed sites for the first 2 years after disturbance. By year 3, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) typically becomes dominant and perennial grasses such as western wheatgrass become dominant by the 4th year after disturbance . In big sagebrush communities, western wheatgrass may among the earliest species to become prominent following disturbance . In Wyoming big sagebrush communities, western wheatgrass dominates "late intermediate seral stages" in steppe communities . It replaces blue grama in "early intermediate seral stages" and is replaced by big sagebrush later in succession.
Western wheatgrass is common on disturbed sites (abandoned towns) in parts of southwestern Montana . During the drought of the 1930s, western wheatgrass supplanted tall grasses over much of the eastern Kansas prairie . Grasses reverted to the original composition as more "normal" (more moist) conditions returned.
In certain Montana riparian communities, years of heavy grazing
can cause cottonwood stands to be replaced by shrub/grass
communities dominated by silver sagebrush (Artemisia cana),
greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus), and
western wheatgrass .
Western wheatgrass produces best growth in spring. Flowering occurs in June, and seeds ripen in August or September . In South Dakota, vegetative growth typically begins in early June, flowering begins by mid to late June, and seeds shatter by mid-August . Flowering dates by state are as follows :
State Earliest date observed Latest date observed CO June August MT June August ND June July WY June AugustA representative phenology for a population of western wheatgrass from the northern Great Plains is as follows :
Dormancy 5-20 November Early growth 15-20 April Rapid growth 1-10 June Boot stage 1-15 AugustA western Wyoming study of phenological development of western wheatgrass from 1973 to 1975 showed that "normal" seed dissemination was difficult to predict as inflorescences appearing in July did not necessarily produce viable seed. Seed may not shatter until late fall or early the following summer .
Phenology Range Average Growth initiation March 5-April 26 March 15 Full bloom June 20-July 20 July 10 Start of seed July 25-November 20 August 15 dissemination
In northeastern Colorado, the following phenological development was observed :
Floral buds and open flowers Early June Floral buds, open flowers and ripening fruit Mid-June Buds, flowers, green and ripe fruit Early June Bud, flowers, green, ripe fruit and dispersing seed End of July-Early August Green and ripe fruit, dispersing seed and senescence Early OctoberIn a 2nd Colorado study, seasonal growth was initiated by the 2nd or 3rd week of April and flowering began by the 1st week of June, with maximum flowering by the 3rd week of June. Maximum rate of leaf area increase occurred from late May through June . In Texas, western wheatgrass generally begins fall growth by September. The short growing period in the fall is followed by peak growth in late spring (April) when maximum leaf widths are reached. Plants did not grow during winter, even under irrigation .
The growth and phenological stages of western wheatgrass plants are inversely related to carbohydrate reserve storage. Lowest root and crown total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC) levels are reached during the 3rd leaf stage in April. The highest TNC levels occur during the 5th leaf stage in late June and at the end of the growing season, fall quiescence . Seed maturity occurs when water concentrations reach approximately 300 to 350 g/kg (dry weight basis) 
Fire did not alter species composition after fire in a South Dakota mixed-grass prairie community containing western wheatgrass . This may not be true of all communities in which western wheatgrass occurs. To learn more about the fire regimes in specific communities in which western wheatgrass occurs, refer to the FEIS summary for those species, under "Fire Ecology or Adaptations."
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY:
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Find 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".
Fall burns can also stimulate productivity of western wheatgrass, but sometimes to a lesser degree than can spring burns [162,163]. In Montana, plants burned in fall and spring exhibited similar yields after mid-May . Studies in eastern Montana indicate that western wheatgrass increases in abundance after spring, summer, and early fall burns. However, best response was noted after late summer or early fall fires .
Summer burns generally produce increases in western wheatgrass cover or production . In the northern Great Plains, best response of western wheatgrass may sometimes be observed after late summer (August-September) burns .
Winter burns produce no change or result in increases in cover in South Dakota .DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
In western North Dakota on a mesic mixed-grass prairie with annual precipitation of 16 inches (410 mm), the effects of 3 wildfires (May, August, and September) were studied on areas subject to trespass grazing. Frequency of western wheatgrass plants remained the same or higher than before burning on all 3 treatments.
In western South Dakota, yield and density of western wheatgrass were increased by late winter or early spring burns . Western wheatgrass and Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus) were codominants in Badlands National Park in west-central South Dakota on land that had not been cultivated or grazed for at least 25 years. A study investigating the effects of fire on western wheatgrass found that vegetative propagation of western wheatgrass was enhanced immediately following burns and growth returned to the level of unburned plots during the 2nd growing season. Plots were burned in April and May, 1983 and 1984, and clipped in April 1983. Western wheatgrass spread vegetatively during the 1st growing season but often did not produce seed until the 2nd growing season following burning .
Although growth of new shoots from rhizomes can sometimes be retarded by early spring burning, this effect often does not persist, as fall- and spring-burned plants have similar yields after mid-May. In eastern Montana, spring-burned plants quickly overcame initial slow growth and herbage yields equaled those on fall-burned plots . By mid-June spring burned plots may have higher yields of western wheatgrass than adjacent unburned plots [128,161,170]. In an eastern Montana study, spring and fall-burned plots produced significantly more (P < 0.05) forage than unburned plots, but by the end of July, no differences were noted :
season and treatment percent basal cover fall burn 19.0% spring burn 14.3% clipped not burned 14.4% untreated control 15.3%
Following years in which precipitation is below average, western wheatgrass tiller density may be lower in plots with "reduced surface litter," such as burned plots, than in areas with undisturbed surface litter . Plants on burned plots may dry out more rapidly than on unburned areas and may provide less standing forage after early July. Reductions in western wheatgrass yields after late spring burns have been attributed to moisture stress .
For further information on western wheatgrass response to fire, see Fire Case Studies. The Research Project Summary Seasonal fires in Saskatchewan rough fescue prairie provides information on prescribed fire use and postfire response of plains grassland community species, including western wheatgrass, that was not available when this species review was originally written.FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
In the northern Great Plains, forage yield can be increased with the use of fire and careful timing of reintroduction of livestock to the burned range . Areas burned can become attractive to grazers where yields and density of western wheatgrass increase . After fire, western wheatgrass recovers more rapidly on ungrazed pasture than on grazed plots .
Forage quality can be improved with burning . Burning (with or without mechanical treatments) can increase the crude protein content of western wheatgrass within the first postfire growing season. Results from a South Dakota area burned in the spring of 1984 are as follows :
Mean crude protein (%) clipped at ground level: Treatment burning none burn burn burn burn mechanical none none contour pitting rip & furrow furrow 1984 8.19 8.56 10.25 8.94 9.54 1985 12.94 10.50 10.81 10.37 9.81Frequent defoliation of western wheatgrass severely reduces plant reserves. In northern Colorado on a shortgrass prairie, a 14- to 26-month resting period from grazing was sufficient for the recovery of plants from a single heavy defoliation. After this period plants exhibited vigor and total nonstructural carbohydrate levels which were similar to control plants [29,30]. Defoliation during dormancy had the least effect on yield . A greenhouse study showed that the frequency of clipping significantly ("P=5%") reduced cumulative aboveground production of western wheatgrass. The height of clipping affected aboveground and belowground production. Western wheatgrass plants that were clipped at either a 2 inch (5.0 cm) or 4 inches (10.0 cm) stubble height had significantly (P=0.05) less root biomass than did unclipped control plants .
Fine fuel amounts should total at least 600 lbs/acre for good fire spread in rhizomatous wheatgrass .
Fall fire Temperature Relative Wind speed Wind Time (oF) humidity (miles/h) direction Ridge 78 24 5-7 S-W 1330 Meadow 77 30 5-6 SE-NE 1450 Winter fire Temperature Relative Wind speed Wind Time (oF) humidity (miles/h) direction Ridge 49 34 3-5 E 1205 Meadow 50 36 5-8 SE 1335 Spring fire Temperature Relative Wind speed Wind Time (oF) humidity (miles/h) direction Ridge 50 52 7 NE 0930 Meadow 45 64 10-15 N-NE 1100FIRE EFFECTS ON TARGET SPECIES:
Ridge Fall Winter Spring Unburned Height (cm) 21.6 21.9 22.9 27.5 yield(kg/ha) 869 725 1208 104 Meadow Fall Winter Spring Unburned Height (cm) 18.2 19.6 20.5 22.0 Yield(kg/ha) 66 95 95 261FIRE MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS:
Weather conditions at time of the fires were as follows: Date Time Location Temp. RH Wind of burn (mph) 5/27/76 0900 Rankin Ridge 70oF(21oC) 38% ENE 4-7 3/1/77 1100 Rankin Ridge 30oF(-11oC) 78% SSE 3-6 4/21/76 0600 Wind Cave 48oF(9oC) 49% NNW 4-9 4/21/76 0825 Wind Cave 70oF(21oC) 40% N W 7-12* *At 0845 the wind switched to SE at 8-12 mph.FIRE DESCRIPTION:
On the Wind Cave Canyon study area, 35 acres (14 ha) were burned. Vegetation was burned between two strips of fire retardant that were about 6 to 9 feet (2-3 m) apart. Both burns at this study site were conducted on March 21, 1976. The south fire line was reinforced by burning west to east strips from the existing line toward a slope. The fire was then backed downhill through mountain-mahogany (Cercocarpus spp.) to reduce fuels and minimize damage to shrubs. Along the east end of the area the fire burned with the wind through ponderosa pine. Burning was initiated at about 0830 and completed by 1130.FIRE EFFECTS ON TARGET SPECIES:
Location Rankin Ridge Wind Cave Canyon tmt. control 3/1 burn 5/27 burn control 4/21 burns 1976 2.11 ----- 1.28* 6.25 17.51* 1977 2.39 3.54 1.00 4.31 13.48* * significantly different from unburned areas at p=0.10FIRE MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS:
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