Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Poa pratensis

Introductory

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Uchytil, Ronald J. 1993. Poa pratensis. 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/ [].

ABBREVIATION : POAPRA SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : POPR COMMON NAMES : Kentucky bluegrass TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name of Kentucky bluegrass is Poa pratensis L. [124]. Kartesz and Kartesz [59] recognized the following subspecies: P. p. ssp. agassizensis (Boivin & D. Love) Taylor & McBryde P. p. ssp. alpigena (Fries) Hiitonen P. p. ssp. angustifolia (L.) Gaudin P. p. ssp. pratensis Kentucky bluegrass is generally considered to be nonnative to North America. Some botanists argue, however, that populations in remote mountain meadows of the West may be native (see discussion by Cronquist and others) [22]. Poa pratensis naturally hybridizes with several other species within the genus, including P. secunda, P. arctica, P. alpina, P. nervosa, P. reflexa, and P. palustris [124]. LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Kentucky bluegrass is widely distributed across North America growing in every state and Canadian province.  It is adapted for growth in cool, humid climates, and is most prevalent in the northern half of the United States and the southern half of Canada.  It is not common in the Gulf States nor in desert regions of the Southwest [125]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES10  White - red - jack pine    FRES11  Spruce - fir    FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine    FRES14  Oak - pine    FRES15  Oak - hickory    FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood    FRES18  Maple - beech - birch    FRES19  Aspen - birch    FRES20  Douglas-fir    FRES21  Ponderosa pine    FRES22  Western white pine    FRES23  Fir - spruce    FRES24  Hemlock - Sitka spruce    FRES25  Larch    FRES26  Lodgepole pine    FRES28  Western hardwoods    FRES29  Sagebrush    FRES30  Desert shrub    FRES34  Chaparral - mountain shrub    FRES35  Pinyon - juniper    FRES36  Mountain grasslands    FRES37  Mountain meadows    FRES38  Plains grasslands    FRES39  Prairie    FRES41  Wet grasslands    FRES42  Annual grasslands    FRES44  Alpine STATES :      AL  AK  AZ  AR  CA  CO  CT  DE  FL  GA      HI  ID  IL  IN  IA  KS  KY  LA  ME  MD      MA  MI  MN  MS  MO  MT  NE  NV  NH  NJ      NM  NY  NC  ND  OH  OK  OR  PA  RI  SC      SD  TN  TX  UT  VT  VA  WA  WV  WI  WY      AB  BC  MB  NB  NF  NT  NS  ON  PE  PQ      SK  YT  MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :     1  Northern Pacific Border     2  Cascade Mountains     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    13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont    14  Great Plains    15  Black Hills Uplift    16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    Kentucky bluegrass is widespread and found in nearly all Kuchler Plant Associations. SAF COVER TYPES :    Kentucky bluegrass is found in nearly all SAF cover types SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Kentucky bluegrass is an introduced plant and is therefore not used in habitat typing.  It has, however, become naturalized across North America and often occurs as a herbaceous layer dominant.  In the West, Kentucky bluegrass frequently occurs as an understory dominant in aspen (Populus tremuloides), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), sagebrush (Artemisia spp.)/bunchgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata, Festuca altaica, F. idahoensis), bunchgrass, and riparian habitats.  It is also a common dominant of midwestern prairies. Ponderosa pine and bunchgrass habitat types:  Grazing-induced seral stages in which Kentucky bluegrass is the herbaceous layer dominant are widespread and common within ponderosa pine/bunchgrass, sagebrush/bunchgrass, and bunchgrass habitat types [25,57]. Riparian communities:  Kentucky bluegrass is a common understory dominant of low- to middle-elevation riparian communities throughout the Mountain West.  These sites are typically gently sloping stream terraces with a widely spaced overstory of cottonwood (Populus angustifolia, P. deltoides, P. trichocarpa), water birch (Betula occidentalis), conifers, or willows (Salix geyeriana, S. lutea, S. exigua) [46,62,88,128]. Kentucky bluegrass also dominates low- and middle-elevation riparian meadows on broad floodplains and elevated stream terraces [62,88].  In the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, Kentucky bluegrass dominance is an indicator of dry to moist meadow conditions and soils that are dark brown to black and clayey [45]. Aspen/Kentucky bluegrass communities:  Aspen/Kentucky bluegrass and aspen/mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus)/Kentucky bluegrass community types are relatively uncommon but widespread across the Intermountain Region [80].  In central Colorado, and in the Black Hills of South Dakota, aspen stands with an understory dominated by Kentucky bluegrass are fairly common [90,96].  The understory of aspen/Kentucky bluegrass communities is relatively depauperate [82]. The following publications describe Kentucky-bluegrass-dominated grasslands, and forests and woodlands where it occurs as a understory dominant: Classification and management of riparian and wetland sites in   northwestern Montana [13]. Classification and management of riparian and wetland sites in central   and eastern Montana [46].  Riparian dominance types of Montana [47]. Riparian zone associations: Deschutes, Ochoco, Fremont, and Winema   National Forests [58]. Riparian community type classification of Utah and southeastern Idaho   [88]. Preliminary riparian community type classification for Nevada [68]. Riparian community type classification for eastern Idaho and western   Wyoming [128]. Ecology and plant communities of the riparian area associated with   Catherine Creek in northeastern Oregon [61]. A meadow site classification for the Sierra Nevada, California [91].  Plant communities of the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and   southeastern Washington [45]. Plant associations of the central Oregon pumice zone [119].  Ecology and distribution of riparian vegetation in the Trout Creek   Mountains of southeastern Oregon [32]. Plant associations of the Wallowa-Snake Province: Wallowa-Whitman   National Forest [57]. Range plant communities of the Central Grasslands Research Station in   south-central North Dakota [66]. Classification of native vegetation at the Woodworth Station, North   Dakota [79]. Aspen community types of the Intermountain Region [80]. Aspen community types of Utah [82]. Aspen community types on the Caribou and Targhee National Forests in   southeastern Idaho [81]. Aspen community types of the Pike and San Isabel National Forests in   south-central Colorado [90]. Classification of quaking aspen stands in the Black Hills and Bear Lodge   Mountains [96]. Classification of deer habitat in the ponderosa pine forests of the   Black Hills, South Dakota [109].

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Livestock: Kentucky bluegrass is highly palatable in early growth stages and provides nutritious forage for all classes of livestock.  In the West, it is often abundant in mountain grasslands, moist and dry mountain meadows, aspen parkland, and open ponderosa pine forests where it is eaten extensively by domestic sheep and cattle [15,20,49,60]. Mountain meadows dominated by Kentucky bluegrass may be relatively limited in extent, but they are highly productive and thus contribute substantial amounts of summer forage [75].  On mountain rangelands in northeastern Oregon, Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most important forage species in cattle and sheep summer diets [55,75]. In eastern North America, Kentucky bluegrass is considered one of the best pasture grasses [100].  Due to limited precipitation in the West, however, it provides only fair range forage because biomass production is relatively low due to summer dormancy [115].  It is seldom seeded on western ranges but may be used for pasture on moist and cool sites [100,122].  In irrigated pastures, midsummer production can be favorable, allowing cattle to gain more weight than if pastured on orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) or smooth brome (Bromus inermis) [100]. Kentucky bluegrass is seldom planted for hay production because yields are generally low, and plants mature before other hay species are ready to cut.  It is, however, often found in hay mixtures as an invader [100]. Wildlife:  Regionally, Kentucky bluegrass can be an important part of the diets of elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep [27,49].  On elk winter range in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most important grasses eaten by elk [54].  Kentucky bluegrass is also an important part of fall and winter diets of elk in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota [126].  Kentucky bluegrass meadows found along mountain streams are often preferred foraging areas of wild ungulates [61]. Bluegrass leaves and seeds are eaten by numerous species of small mammals and songbirds [72,85].  Bluegrass is often an important food of the cottontail rabbit and wild turkey [21,39].  Prairie chickens eat small amounts of seeds [21].  Kentucky-bluegrass-dominated grasslands provide habitat for numerous species of small mammals [39,78].  In Kentucky-bluegrass-dominated mountain meadows in Oregon the northern pocket gopher, Columbian ground squirrel, and mice are a prevalent, and thus these sites are also important to foraging raptors [62]. Mueggler and Campbell [82] suggest that the aspen/Kentucky bluegrass community type in Utah is one of the poorest aspen community types for value as wildlife habitat because of the lack of plant species diversity. PALATABILITY : Kentucky bluegrass is highly palatable to most large grazers during the spring when it is green and succulent.  When semidormant in the summer, palatability is much reduced.  In moist mountain meadows, palatability remains somewhat high during the summer. In aspen parkland and mountain grasslands, Kentucky bluegrass is often one of the most preferred grasses of cattle and sheep [15,75].  In some Kentucky bluegrass-dominated meadows cattle grazing pressure can be severe.  For example, along Catherine Creek in northeastern Oregon, cattle preferred feeding in both dry and moist Kentucky bluegrass meadows over other riparian vegetation types.  Kentucky bluegrass was utilized from 55 to 79 percent in dry meadows and from 67 to 80 percent in moist meadows [60].  In central Oregon, Kentucky-bluegrass-dominated meadows are more palatable into midsummer than drier meadows dominated by Cusick bluegrass (Poa cusickii) [120]. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, sedges (Carex spp.), wheatgrasses (Agropyron spp.), and timber oatgrass (Danthonia intermedia) were preferred by cattle over Kentucky bluegrass [114]. Kentucky bluegrass was one of the most preferred grasses of cattle under season-long grazing in the ponderosa pine type of northern Arizona [20]. In the prairie states, Kentucky bluegrass is most palatable to livestock in the spring before warm-season grasses have resumed growth [21]. Palatability to wildlife in western states is rated as follows [27,62,97]:                          CO      MT      ND      OR      UT      WY Pronghorn               ----    ----    poor     ----   good    good Elk                     good    good    ----     good   good    good Mule deer               ----    fair    poor     good   good    good White-tailed deer       ----    good    poor     good   ----    good Small mammals           good    fair    fair     ----   good    good Small nongame birds     ----    fair    fair     ----   fair    good Upland game birds       ----    fair    poor     ----   fair    good Waterfowl               ----    good    good     ----   fair    good NUTRITIONAL VALUE : Early growth stages of Kentucky bluegrass are nutritious.  After flowering, nutritive value declines, and the plant may only provide for the minimum maintenance energy needs of ruminants.  Crude protein content of leaves, for example, is often greater than 20 percent in early spring before elongation of flowering culms.  After flowering, protein content of leaves drops to less than 5 percent [74].  Similarly, fiber content increases as plants mature. The National Academy of Sciences [84] reported the following nutritional information for fresh, aerial parts of Kentucky bluegrass during various growth stages:                    % Protein    % Ash   % Crude Fiber   % N-free Extract growth stage      (N x 6.25)        immature             17.5        9.4        25.4             44.2 early bloom          16.6        7.1        27.4             44.9 mid-bloom             13.2        7.6        29.2             46.1 milk stage           11.6        7.3        30.3             47.2 dough stage           9.5        6.6        34.8             46.0 mature                9.5        6.2        32.2             49.0 over ripe             3.3        6.3        42.1             47.0 In the Black Hills of South Dakota, Kentucky bluegrass plants growing in shaded locations had more crude fiber and less nitrogen-free extract than plants growing in full sunlight.  Although plants from shaded locations were still nutritious for cattle, they were less palatable [74]. COVER VALUE : Kentucky bluegrass provides good cover for small mammals and nongame birds.  For waterfowl and upland game birds, cover value is fair to good, depending upon species. Where abundant, Kentucky bluegrass is preferred nesting cover of blue-winged teal.  In the Midwest, bluegrass fields are used extensively for nesting by this duck [8]. Kentucky bluegrass provides poor nesting cover for the ring-necked pheasant [39].  In south-central South Dakota, Kentucky bluegrass was important to nesting sharp-tailed grouse, occurring at 84 percent of all nests [42], however, on the Sheyenne National Grasslands in southeastern North Dakota, Kentucky bluegrass was seldom used by nesting sharp-tailed grouse or prairie chickens [70].  Because upland game birds require dense, residual cover for nesting in the spring, cattle grazing greatly influences nest site selection [42]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Kentucky bluegrass's value in rehabilitation work is limited because it is slow to establish cover, is not drought tolerant, and has high soil fertility requirements [116].  When planted in seed mixtures, it often takes 2 or 3 years to become established.  Once established, however, it is persistent and forms a dense sod which promotes soil stability [49]. It is used in Alaska, Colorado, and Wisconsin for soil stabilization along highway roadbanks [49].  In the West, it is probably best suited for establishing cover in disturbed subalpine habitats [9]; however, Hassel and others [50] recommend Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa) over Kentucky bluegrass for revegetation projects on mountain sites in the Intermountain West. A summary of Kentucky bluegrass's performance at numerous reclamation sites has been published [49].  OTHER USES AND VALUES : Kentucky bluegrass is one of America's most popular lawn grasses.  It withstands considerable abuse, and it is often used as a sod-grass at campgrounds, golf courses, and ski slopes [97]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Grazing:  The desirability of Kentucky bluegrass on rangeland is limited because of low production, summer dormancy, and propensity to invade native grasslands.  This grass is highly resistant to grazing because growing points remain belowground throughout the growing season, and it has a low ratio of reproductive to vegetative stems [30].  Few grasses are able to withstand heavy grazing as well as Kentucky bluegrass.  It increases rapidly on overgrazed pastures and ranges, and its presence is usually an indication of poor grazing management in the past. On tallgrass prairie rangeland, Kentucky bluegrass density is best kept in check by a combination of grazing management and prescribed burning. It was effectively controlled in eastern Kansas with either season-long or intensive early season grazing combined with late spring prescribed burning [65].  Kentucky bluegrass also decreases with a combination of late spring mowing and raking, which simulates burning [86]. In the Mountain West, Kentucky bluegrass is well adapted to meadows which have seasonally high water tables and midsummer drought [120].  It has become naturalized and dominates many meadows once dominated by tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and sedges.  Replacement of Kentucky bluegrass with the original natives is impractical because of its competitive ability.  Even after 11 years of rest from livestock grazing, a Kentucky bluegrass meadow in central Oregon did not advance toward dominance by tufted hairgrass [118].  For livestock use, these sites are best managed under a grazing system other than season long use. Bluegrass control with herbicides:  Herbicides are used for cool-season grass control prior to planting warm-season grass species for prairie restoration, and for cool-season grass suppression in overgrazed pastures.  Atrazine and glyphosate effectively control Kentucky bluegrass.  On rangeland in eastern Nebraska, April application of atrazine or glyphosate reduced Kentucky bluegrass relative composition by 98 and 96 percent, respectively, after one growing season [121]. After two growing seasons, bluegrass recovery was negligible.  This allowed yields of native warm-season grasses to increase dramatically. Soil stability:  Because of its shallow root system, Kentucky bluegrass is generally not as good a soil stabilizer as the native grasses and forbs it replaces.  In riparian settings, it is ineffective in stabilizing streambanks.  Erosion and channel downcutting may occur, especially where excessively grazed [47,62]. Flood resistance:  Kentucky bluegrass is intolerant of prolonged flooding, high water tables, or poor drainage [122].

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Kentucky bluegrass is an introduced, perennial, short to medium-tall, cool-season, sod-forming grass.  The leaves are primarily basally attached and are usually 4 to 12 inches (10-30 cm) long [100].  Stems are numerous in a tuft and grow 12 to 36 inches (30-91 cm) high.  The inflorescence is an open panicle.  Kentucky bluegrass is shallow rooted and is intolerant of drought.  Most roots and rhizomes are found within 3 inches (7.5 cm) of the soil surface [40]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :       Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Kentucky bluegrass is a vigorous herbaceous competitor.  Not only does it spread by rhizome expansion, it also produces abundant seed which accounts for good seedling recruitment and establishment on disturbed sites. There are 2.1 to 2.2 million seeds per pound (4.6-4.8 million/kg). Germinative capacity varies from 75 to 94 percent.  Seeds require light for germination [35]. In eastern Washington, fresh seed sown in July began germinating on November 18; seedling emergence continued into December beneath an occasional snow cover.  Autumn seed germination was regulated more by temperature and moisture than by the amount or quality of light [14]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Kentucky bluegrass is widely distributed across North America, growing on a wide variety of sites in numerous vegetation types, but grows best and is most abundant on moist sites where the climate is cool and humid. In tallgrass prairie it may be abundant on uplands and lowlands because of abundant annual precipitation, but in mixed-grass prairie it is abundant only on lowland sites [49,105].  In the West, cool, moist conditions optimal for growth typically occur on northern exposures, at moderate to high elevations, and in riparian environments [49].  In the Southwest and in California Kentucky bluegrass is often confined to cool mountainous regions [113].  It grows best in full sunlight but will tolerate light shading if moisture and nutrients are favorable [49,100]. Kentucky bluegrass grows in prairies and fields, mountain grasslands, mountain brushlands, mountain meadows, riparian woodlands, and open forests and woods.  It is common along roadsides. Soils:  Kentucky bluegrass grows on a wide variety of soils, but thrives on well-drained loams or clay loams rich in humus [113].  It also thrives on soils derived from limestone [49,100,113].  It is somewhat exacting in its chemical fertility requirements, needing large amounts of nitrogen during active growth stages [100].  Optimal soil pH is between 5.8 and 8.2 [100].  Elevation:  Elevational ranges for selected western states are as follows [27,101,124]:        State                 Elevational Range         CO              4,000 to 12,000 feet (1,220-3,659 m)         MT              2,800 to 7,500 feet (854-2,287 m)         NM              5,576 to 11,480 feet (1,700-3,500 m)         UT              4,200 to 10,800 feet (1,280-3,290 m)         WY              4,600 to 9,100 feet (1,400-2,775 m) Associated species:  Kentucky bluegrass is ubiquitous.  Associated species in specific habitats are presented below: Mountain and riparian meadows: redtop (Agrostis alba), smallwing sedge (Carex microptera), analogue sedge (C. simulata), timothy (Phleum pratense), Baltic rush (Juncus balticus), meadow barley (Hordeum brachyantherum), western aster (Aster occidentalis), common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), strawberry (Frageria virginiana), largeleaf avens (Geum macrophyllum), wild iris (Iris missouriensis), cinquefoil (Potentila gracilis), common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), velvet lupine (Lupinus leucophyllus), and buttercup (Ranunculus spp.) [47,61,68,128]. Mountain grasslands: Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), rough fescue (Festuca scabrella), Idaho fescue (F. idahoensis), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), mountain brome (B. marginatus), common dandelion, snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), and rose (Rosa acicularis) [25,89,95].  SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Kentucky bluegrass is extremely competitive.  Due to past grazing and lowering of water tables in western riparian habitats, Kentucky bluegrass now dominates many sites once occupied by tufted hairgrass, woolly sedge (Carex lanuginosa), widefruit sedge (C. eurycarpa), aquatic sedge (C. aquatilis), bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis), Cusick bluegrass, and willows [47,62,88].  Once it has gained dominance, it is persistent and remains a relatively stable community component. In the Intermountain West, aspen/Kentucky bluegrass communities are grazing-induced seral stages which have replaced the following climax or near climax communities [80,82]:  aspen/mountain snowberry/Fendler meadowrue (Thalictrum fendleri), aspen/mountain snowberry/pinegrass (Calamagrostis rubescens), aspen/Fendler meadowrue, aspen/pinegrass, aspen/mountain snowberry/elk sedge (Carex geyeri), and aspen/elk sedge. In ponderosa pine and bunchgrass habitat types, Kentucky bluegrass is often the herbaceous layer dominant on sites with a history of past grazing abuse.  Daubenmire [25] called such sites a "zootic climax" because even after the grazing disturbance has been stopped for many years, there is no indication that Kentucky bluegrass will give way to the native climax species.  SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Kentucky bluegrass is one of the first grasses to resume growth in late winter or early spring.  It grows rapidly, and in many states it flowers in May [19,27].  In Kentucky and Missouri, seeds are mature by mid-June [125].  By midsummer plants become nearly dormant.  With cool temperatures and precipitation, growth resumes in the fall and continues until daytime temperatures approach freezing [97,105]. Flowering time for several states is as follows: Montana - late May and early June [97] North Dakota - late May and early June [69] Nebraska - May [105] Kentucky bluegrass phenology was studied over a 3-year period on the Sheyenne National Grasslands in southeastern North Dakota.  Timing of phenological events was as follows (average dates for the 3 years studied) [69]: Resumption of spring growth - green leaves observed during snowmelt in mid-March, but rapid growth began in early April. Flowering - flower stalks appeared in mid-May.  Most flowering occurred in late May and early June.  Nearly all plants completed anthesis within one week. Seed maturation - mature seeds were observed in mid- to late June.  Seed stalks became dried after anthesis and were easily removed by wind. Most stalks were removed by midsummer.  Senescence and regrowth - maximum leaf height occurred in mid-June and leaf senescence occurred shortly thereafter.  Plants were semidormant during midsummer.  Large amounts of vegetative regrowth began in late July and early August.  Forty percent of leaves present at the end of August were new growth, which continued for a short time after the first hard frost.

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : During grassland fires, the fire front passes quickly and temperatures 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the soil surface rise very little [24].  During a late April prescribed fire in an oak savanna in Minnesota, where Kentucky bluegrass formed an almost complete sod between bunches of native tallgrasses, temperatures immediately below the soil surface rarely exceeded 125 degrees Fahrenheit (51 deg C) [108].  Located a couple of inches below the soil surface, Kentucky bluegrass rhizomes survive and initiate new growth after aboveground plant portions are consumed by fire.  Although the plant survives because of soil-insulated rhizomes, postfire plant vigor and density are greatly affected by phenological stage at time of burning (see Fire Effects On Plant). Seedling establishment is unimportant in immediate postfire recovery. However, burning may enhance seed germination of Kentucky bluegrass during the second postfire growing season.  On an Iowa prairie codominated by big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Kentucky bluegrass, Kentucky bluegrass seedlings were more abundant in 1986 on plots burned in May, June, August, or November of 1985 than on unburned plots [131]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Plant phenological stage at time of burning greatly influences fire damage to herbaceous plants.  In general, as new foliage of perennial grasses reaches full development major food reserves have been depleted, so that plants are injured most from fires occurring at this time [24,93].  Because Kentucky bluegrass is a cool-season grass, active in the spring and fall, it is most susceptible to fire damage at those times.  Late spring fires, after plants have been growing for about a month or more, are the most damaging to Kentucky bluegrass.  Sampling at the end of the first growing season after late spring burning shows that Kentucky bluegrass basal cover and tiller density are typically much lower in burned areas than in nearby unburned areas [11,26,31,43,83,86,87,94,106]. Cool fires conducted when plants are dormant have little effect on Kentucky bluegrass [62]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Kentucky bluegrass's fire response varies greatly depending on season of burning, fire frequency, and postfire precipitation and soil moisture. Season of burning:  Kentucky bluegrass postfire cover, biomass, and flower stalk density are often greatly reduced during the first postfire growing season by a single late spring fire.  Three examples are presented to demonstrate rather typical first-year responses to late spring burning: (1) in mixed-grass prairie unburned for several years in north-central Nebraska, a single prescribed fire in mid-April or mid-May greatly reduced Kentucky bluegrass basal cover in October, with cover on burned plots only half that found on unburned plots [83], (2) after a single mid-April fire on a tallgrass prairie site unburned for several years in Iowa, Kentucky bluegrass relative biomass decreased from 80 percent to 25 percent during the first postfire growing season [53], and (3) in the mountains of western Montana, Kentucky bluegrass frequency was reduced 27.5 percent by a single late May fire in a sagebrush/bunchgrass habitat type [18]. Kentucky bluegrass biomass production and density may be unaffected or increase after burning at other times of the year, such as early spring, summer, or fall.  It consistently recovers more quickly from burning at these times of year than from burning in late spring. In fields dominated by cool-season grasses in Wisconsin, Kentucky bluegrass was reduced to one-fifth of its original density after 6 years of annual burning in May; annual burning in March or October did not affect Kentucky bluegrass density [23].  A different study in Wisconsin showed that flower stalk density was reduced 70 percent by three annual mid-May prescribed fires but was slightly increased by annual burning in late March or early April [51].  Although summer grass fires can be relatively intense, Kentucky bluegrass is dormant at this time.  It may not be harmed by summer burning, and if precipitation is favorable, it may even increase.  In mixed-grass prairie in north-central South Dakota, Kentucky bluegrass frequency increased or remained unchanged on uplands burned in early August followed by a wet spring, but decreased on uplands burned in summer following a dry spring [103,104].  Kentucky bluegrass's density tripled 1 year after late October and early November low-intensity prescribed fires in aspen stands in Colorado [99].  In ponderosa pine habitat types in British Columbia, Kentucky bluegrass biomass was unchanged by an October prescribed fire [110]. Fire frequency:  Even after late spring burning, unless burned a second time, Kentucky bluegrass density and cover often return to prefire levels within 1 to 3 years.  For example, burning in May or June in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, consistently reduced Kentucky bluegrass canopy coverage, height, shoot density, flower stalk density, and biomass during the first postfire growing season but not during postfire years 2 and 3 [87].  In fact, biomass and density were often greater on burned plots than on control plots during postfire year 2. Other studies in mixed-grass prairie have shown Kentucky bluegrass cover can be reduced for 2 or 3 years by a single late spring fire [34,83,94]. Kentucky bluegrass cannot withstand frequent spring burning.  In the tallgrass prairie, its density decreases with increased fire frequency, and it may be eliminated from sites that are burned annually for several years [1,5,28,44,65,77].  In the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas, Kentucky bluegrass canopy coverage under different burning regimes was 30.3 percent on an area unburned for 11 years, 7.0 percent on an area burned 1 and 5 years before sampling, and 0 percent on an area burned annually for 5 years [1].  A similar response was observed on a reconstructed tallgrass prairie in Illinois subjected to the following burning treatments [44]: not burned = unburned for 19 years burned twice = burned Feb. 28, 1952 and April 16, 1959 burned three times = burned Feb. 28, 1952; April 16, 1959; and May 2, 1961 burned four times = burned Feb. 28, 1952; April 16, 1959; May 2, 1961; and                     May 10, 1962 Sampling at the end of the 1962 growing season showed the relative percentage of bluegrass (P. compressa and P. pratensis) shoot biomass decreased with increased burning frequency in two community types as follows:                                Burning Treatment                   not burned     burned twice    burned      burned                                                3 times     4 times Community type big bluestem        23.4             18.3         4.6          0 indiangrass         18.6             15.9         3.3          0 Vogl [117] sampled several pine barrens in northern Wisconsin and reported that Kentucky bluegrass frequency either increased or decreased within 1 year of a single spring fire but that Kentucky bluegrass was eliminated on sites spring burned more than once every few years. Influence of postfire moisture:  Kentucky bluegrass is more susceptible to fire damage on ridge sites than in depressions, especially in dry years [52].  In fact, in swales and low prairie sites that receive upslope moisture, Kentucky bluegrass often increases after spring burning.  In bluegrass fields in Wisconsin, Kentucky bluegrass density and biomass increased in depressions but decreased or remained unchanged on ridgetops after two successive mid-April fires [129].  In eastern South Dakota, Kentucky bluegrass recovered well from early May burning if irrigated.  On burned but unirrigated plots, however, biomass decreased sharply [12].  In eastern North Dakota, lowland and upland prairies were burned on May 8, 1966.  Postfire data on August 4, 1966 showed that Kentucky bluegrass frequency increased on lowlands but remained unchanged on uplands.  Biomass on both uplands and lowlands decreased, but the decrease was much greater on uplands [43].  When postfire growing season precipitation was "considerably below normal" in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, Kentucky bluegrass biomass on burned areas was less than half that found on unburned areas whether burned on September 18, February 13, or April 10 [37]. In a sagebrush/rough fescue habitat type in Montana, Kentucky bluegrass biomass increased the first summer after a mid-May prescribed fire [95]. This increase was unexpected because bluegrass should be susceptible to burning at this time.  This increase may be due to the high moisture availability in surface soils at this site due to concave slope shape. In contrast, another study in western Montana found Kentucky bluegrass decreased after a prescribed fire on May 24 in a sagebrush/fescue habitat type [18]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : In the Mountain West, Kentucky bluegrass is often more abundant in recently burned areas than in nearby unburned areas.  Sampling 2- to 36-year-old burns in sagebrush/grassland habitat types in southeastern Idaho, Humphrey [56] found that Kentucky bluegrass was more abundant in recent than in old burns.  McKell [76] compared four different-aged burns in the Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii) zone of north-central Utah. Kentucky bluegrass cover and density were higher 1 year after a November fire and 2 years after a January fire, but on 9- and 18-year-old burns cover and density were the same as on nearby unburned areas. In the Klamath Mountains of southern Oregon, Kentucky bluegrass was a codominant grass in open ponderosa pine stands that were burned annually in the spring for 16 years [123].
The following Research Project Summaries provide information on prescribed
fire use and postfire response of plant community species including
Kentucky bluegrass:
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : 
Burning for bluegrass control:  Frequent (annual or biennial) late
spring burning can be used to control Kentucky bluegrass and promote the
growth of warm-season grasses in the Midwest.  The timing of burning is
critical and should take place just prior to the resumption of
warm-season grass growth.  Such burning favors warm-season grasses
because they are dormant at the time of burning.  Conversely,
cool-season species like Kentucky bluegrass are harmed by late spring
fire because they resume growth in the early spring and are thus
actively growing at the time of burning.

In mixed-grass prairie, mid-May has proven to be the most effective time
to burn for Kentucky bluegrass control and has resulted in concomitant
increases in warm-season grasses [31,83].  In native bluestem prairie in
eastern Kansas, Kentucky bluegrass has been nearly eliminated from sites
annually spring burned for decades [112].  In aspen parkland in
northwestern Minnesota, 13 years of annual spring burning in late April,
when bluegrass was 4 to 6 inches high (10-15 cm), reduced Kentucky
bluegrass to about half its original percent composition [107].  After
10 years of biennial spring burning on the Curtis Prairie on the
University of Wisconsin Arboretum, Kentucky bluegrass frequency
decreased from 60 to 13 percent [6].

Burning to promote bluegrass growth:  When using prescribed fire to
promote the growth of cool-season species in the Northern Great Plains,
Kentucky bluegrass will probably respond best to very early spring
(March-April) or late summer (August-September) fires [130].

Disease control:  In Kentucky bluegrass commercial seed fields, burning
after harvest successfully controls several diseases.  It is effective
in controlling ergot (Claviceps purpurea); silver top, caused by the
fungus Fusarium trianctum; and the mite, Siteroptes cerealium.  Burning
also helps control leaf rust (Puccinia poae-nemoralis) and other fungi
harbored in crop residue [48].

Wildlife considerations:  Succulent new grass shoots arising from burned
mountain grasslands are highly palatable to wildlife.  On the Front
Range in Colorado, mule deer and bighorn sheep ate considerably more
Kentucky bluegrass on areas burned in late September than on nearby
unburned areas [102].  Following late October and early November fires
in aspen stands in Colorado, Kentucky bluegrass cover increased and thus
provided more forage to wildlife [99].

Where Kentucky bluegrass is desired for providing ruffed grouse drumming
ground cover, it can be burned when the soil is damp and plants are
dormant [122].

Burning under aspen:  Powell [90] reported that in south-central
Colorado, aspen/Kentucky bluegrass communities have only a moderate
probability of carrying a prescribed fire and only if livestock grazing
is deferred for at least one season.  For fall prescribed burning, the
likelihood of a relatively uniform burning treatment may be increased by
burning after aspen leaf fall [99].






REFERENCES

SPECIES: Poa pratensis
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