SPECIES: Psathyrostachys juncea

INTRODUCTORY


 

  Photo courtesy Tarleton State University
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Taylor, Jane E. 2005. Psathyrostachys juncea. 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:
PSAJUN

SYNONYMS:
Elymus junceus Fisch. [36,45,46,59,164]

NRCS PLANT CODE [152]:
PSJU3

COMMON NAMES:
Russian wildrye

TAXONOMY:
The scientific name of Russian wildrye is Psathyrostachys juncea (Fisch.) Nevski (Poaceae) [2,61,83,84,162,163]. Cultivars and artificially produced hybrids are discussed in Management Considerations.

LIFE FORM:
Graminoid

FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
None

OTHER STATUS:
None

DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE

SPECIES: Psathyrostachys juncea
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION:
Russian wildrye is native to the steppe and desert regions of Russia and China. It has been utilized in the Northern Great Plains and Intermountain regions of the United States for rangeland rehabilitation and improvement since the 1950s [8]. Russian wildrye is not considered in the literature to be noxious or invasive. Therefore, it generally occurs only in areas where planted [66]. Because there is no natural distribution of Russian wildrye in the United States, for this review, the distribution will be discussed for areas where the species is reported to have been successfully planted. It occurs from Alaska, Yukon, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan south to New Mexico and Texas [36,51,59,86,130]. Established populations have been reported for a few locations in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado [36]. The Flora of North America provides a distributional map of Russian wildrye.

ECOSYSTEMS [56]:
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES39 Prairie
FRES40 Desert grasslands

STATES/PROVINCES: (key to state/province abbreviations)
UNITED STATES
AK AZ CO ID MN MT NE NV
NM ND OR SD TX UT WA WY

CANADA
AB BC MB SK YK      

BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS [19]:
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper 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 PLANT ASSOCIATIONS [90]:
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K051 Wheatgrass-bluegrass
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
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
K070 Sandsage-bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie

SAF COVER TYPES [48]:
217 Aspen
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
236 Bur oak
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper

SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES [138]:
101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
106 Bluegrass scabland
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
209 Montane shrubland
210 Bitterbrush
212 Blackbush
215 Valley grassland
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
306 Idaho fescue-slender wheatgrass
307 Idaho fescue-threadleaf sedge
308 Idaho fescue-tufted hairgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama
311 Rough fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
312 Rough fescue-Idaho fescue
313 Tufted hairgrass-sedge
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
324 Threetip sagebrush-Idaho fescue
401 Basin big sagebrush
402 Mountain big sagebrush
403 Wyoming big sagebrush
404 Threetip sagebrush
405 Black sagebrush
406 Low sagebrush
407 Stiff sagebrush
408 Other sagebrush types
410 Alpine rangeland
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
414 Salt desert shrub
416 True mountain-mahogany
501 Saltbush-greasewood
502 Grama-galleta
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
601 Bluestem prairie
602 Bluestem-prairie sandreed
603 Prairie sandreed-needlegrass
605 Sandsage prairie
606 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
607 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
608 Wheatgrass-grama-needlegrass
609 Wheatgrass-grama
610 Wheatgrass
611 Blue grama-buffalo grass
612 Sagebrush-grass
613 Fescue grassland
614 Crested wheatgrass
615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama
701 Alkali sacaton-tobosagrass
702 Black grama-alkali sacaton
703 Black grama-sideoats grama
704 Blue grama-western wheatgrass
705 Blue grama-galleta
706 Blue grama-sideoats grama
707 Blue grama-sideoats grama-black grama
708 Bluestem-dropseed
712 Galleta-alkali sacaton
713 Grama-muhly-threeawn
714 Grama-bluestem
715 Grama-buffalo grass
716 Grama-feathergrass
722 Sand sagebrush-mixed prairie
724 Sideoats grama-New Mexico feathergrass-winterfat

HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
Russian wildrye is a nonnative species and is therefore not used for habitat typing. The occurrence of Russian wildrye is not well documented for all plant communities where it may be found. Although it was planted extensively in many states in the western United States for range improvement, soil stabilization, and pasture, the literature indicates that the species is not invasive, and it is suspected that many plantings of Russian wildrye on "wild", noncultivated sites have gradually been replaced by other species. The following is a list of  habitat types and native plant communities where Russian wildrye was once widely planted and where it may still occur. The list is neither restrictive nor all inclusive.

Pinyon-juniper type (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) AZ, NM, UT [2,29,30,81,115,123,143,148,151,159,164]
Sagebrush types (Artemisia spp.) AZ, ID, NV, NM, UT [67,74,79,87,98,101,114,115,130,164]
Saltgrass meadow CO [99]
Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) grassland CO [63,104]
Salt desert shrub NV, OR, UT, WY [22,24,86,111,123,137,164]
Mountain brush UT [123,145,146,164]
Northern desert shrub AZ, CO, NM, NV, UT, WY [101,123]
Tallgrass prairie & mixed-grass plains MT, ND, SD, WY [113,129]

BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS

SPECIES: Psathyrostachys juncea
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
This description provides characteristics that may be relevant to fire ecology, and is not meant for identification. Several florae provide keys for identifying Russian wildrye [45,46,59,61,162,163,164].

Russian wildrye is a nonnative, perennial, cool-season, bunch-type grass [136]. It is long lived and resistant to cold and drought [8]. Wasser [161] estimates longevity to be 25 years or longer in cultivated plots in the Northern Great Plains and somewhat shorter on sites within the Great Basin.

The culms of Russian wildrye are leafless, erect and densely tufted, typically 1.3 to 3.7 feet (0.4-1.1 m) tall. The inflorescence is a terminal spike, 1.2 to 4.3 inches (3-11 cm) long. Glumes and lemmas are typically scabrous and short-awned. The fruit is a caryopsis, 0.2 inch (5 mm) long. Leaves are basal, 3 to 11 inches (7-30 cm) long and 0.25 to 0.5 inch (6.4-12.8 mm) wide with blades that are flat or curled inward [61,164]. Leaf sheath bases are usually persistent, often shredding into fibers [36]. Russian wildrye forms an extensive network of dense, fibrous roots and is strictly caespitose, forming no rhizomes or stolons [26,35,59,107]. The root system can establish to a depth of  8 to 10 feet (2.5-3 m), with 75% of roots in the top 6 inches (15 cm). The horizontal spread of the root system can be 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5 m) [142].

Physiology:
Flooding Russian wildrye has moderate flood tolerance in the summer and fall [122], but is intolerant of winter or spring flooding [142].

Drought Russian wildrye is exceptionally tolerant of drought [82,142]. Russian wildrye produces seminal lateral roots when drought kills the primary roots [15,53,149]. Plants may survive for 60 days or more when restricted to only the seminal root system until moisture conditions improve and adventitious roots develop [15].

RAUNKIAER [128] LIFE FORM:
Hemicryptophyte

REGENERATION PROCESSES:
Russian wildrye reproduces by seeds and by tillering [39,65,164].

Breeding system: Russian wildrye is monoecious [61].

Pollination: A reference could not be found that speaks specifically to the pollination of Russian wildrye, but it is presumed that it is similar to other perennial grasses and is cross-pollinated by wind [58,68,153].

Seed production: Seed production in Russian wildrye ranges from 50 to 300 pounds per acre under dryland conditions [17,136] and 100 to 700 pounds per acre with irrigation [12,95,136]. Grazing soon after seed maturity  increases the seed production the following year by preventing the development of long mesocotyls. Long mesocotyls cause the shoot apices to form in an elevated position where they are more exposed to frost damage, resulting in a loss of seed production potential [96].

Seed dispersal: The seed of Russian wildrye shatters readily at maturity [142]. Most of the seed falls under or near the parent plant [50].

Seed banking: Grasses typically have seeds that are a transient part of the seed bank. Much of the seed remains in the litter layer and is lost to predation [105].

Germination: In the laboratory, Russian wildrye germinates at a rate of 82% to 85% at 62 to 86 oF (17-30 oC) [11,136,176]. Germination rate drops to 34% at colder temperatures and to 70% at warmer temperatures [176]. Maximum germination rate is achieved at 14 days. Shaw and Cooper [136] recommend 5 days of prechilling prior to planting for optimum seed germination. Seeds can be stored for 4 years before germination rates fall below 70% [136]. Germination rates decrease with increased moisture stress. In laboratory tests, seed germination was greater than 90% at a simulated dehydration level of -59 megapascals (mP). The germination rate dropped to an average of 60% at -120 mP and 33% at -220 mP [14].

Seedling establishment/growth: Russian wildrye is very difficult to establish. It is especially sensitive to seeding depth, and does not emerge well if seeded to a depth of greater than 0.5 to 0.75 inch (1.3-1.9 cm) [6]. Seedlings are weak and develop slowly [142]. Seedling establishment is best on loamy soils because sandy soils may dry out before seedling roots can grow to a depth to find available moisture [72]. 

Asexual regeneration: Russian wildrye produces tillers from axillary buds on the root crown [65]. Heavy grazing can decrease tiller numbers, but moderate grazing to a plant height of 3 inches (7.6 cm) can stimulate tillering and increase tiller numbers [39,65]. Although Russian wildrye does produce tillers, the vegetative spread is very slow [12].

SITE CHARACTERISTICS:
Russian wildrye is exceptionally tolerant of extremely cold temperatures, highly tolerant of salinity (12 mmhos/cm), and fairly tolerant of alkalinity [122,136,142]. Because of its marked adaptation to alkaline soils, Russian wildrye is one of the only grass species to survive plantings in the dry salt desert shrub communities [123]. Russian wildrye grows best on fertile silty, loamy or clayey soils. It does poorly on soils of low fertility, and is hard to establish on sandy soils [69,72,141,142]. Establishment of Russian wildrye is enhanced in semiarid rangelands on sites with a cryptogamic soil crust, presumably because the crust improves moisture and nutrient relationships [16,80].

Russian wildrye is adapted to sites receiving 8 to 14 inches (20-36 cm) of annual precipitation [62,76,145]. Holzworth and Lacey [73] rate Russian wildrye as one of the best pasture grasses for Montana on sites receiving <13 inches (330 mm) precipitation.

The following table lists elevation ranges where Russian wildrye is reported to occur or has been successfully planted on wildland sites:

State

Elevation
AZ 5,000 to 8,300 feet (1,524-2,530 m) [2,29]
CO 5,400 to 7,600 feet (1,646-2,317 m) [75,104]
ID 2,900 to 6,200 feet (884-1,890 m) [67,74]
MT up to 6,000 feet (1,829 m) [141]
NM 5,000 to 8,000 feet (1,524-2,438 m) [2]
OR 2,900 feet (884 m) [86]
UT 4,200 to 9,400 feet (1,280-2,870 m) [116,132,164]


SUCCESSIONAL STATUS:
Russian wildrye is rated as having medium shade tolerance. It does best when exposed to full sunlight, but is not especially sensitive to shading [136]. When seeded on mountain-brush sites in Utah, Russian wildrye was more productive growing in the light shade of greasewood (Sarcobatus spp.), big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), and rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.) than on sites lacking those woody species [124].

Although Russian wildrye is hard to establish and slow to spread, once it is established, the extensive root growth makes this grass very competitive for water and nutrients [26,136,142]. When established in pure stands, it may nearly exclude other vegetation for years [72,82].

Plummer [125] suggests that Russian wildrye planted into salt desert shrub areas seldom persists longer than 10-12 years and is replaced eventually by natives or more invasive introduced grasses. On a salt desert shrub site in Utah, Russian wildrye persisted for more than 14 years at a cover of 15% to 21%; natural recruitment of native species including shadscale (Atriplex spp.), green molly (Kochia americana), and bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides) increased on the plots within this time period [111]. In the arid shadscale zone of Utah and Nevada, Russian wildrye was still surviving on some sites after 10 years, although coverage was considered "sparse" [24].

In pinyon-juniper woodlands on the Hualapai Indian Reservation in Arizona, Russian wildrye persisted on seeded sites for more than 21 years [41].

In aspen (Populus spp.) parkland pastures in British Columbia, Russian wildrye established well, but was replaced steadily by crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) until it was considered "all but gone" within 10 years [103,158].

Russian wildrye planted into a big sagebrush habitat in Nevada persisted for at least 18 years. It persisted best for the first 11 years, and then was steadily replaced by the sagebrush [130].

In Alberta rangelands, cultivated fields of Russian wildrye have persisted for 17 to 35 years; native grasses generally did not reinvade the fields [140].

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT:
Russian wildrye begins spring growth about 2 weeks later than crested wheatgrass [141], but earlier than most native range grasses [75]. Russian wildrye flowers in May-June [59]. It continues growing longer into the summer, often remaining green after seed maturity [155]. The seed of Russian wildrye matures in late summer [8,33,142].

In perennial grasses, the plant growing points undergo a physiological transition between the reproductive stage and the vegetative stage. Often, a cold shock, as would occur with winter temperatures, is needed to initiate this transition. Russian wildrye does not require cold shock, and therefore, the transition occurs in the fall in contrast to the spring transition reported for many other grasses [96].

FIRE ECOLOGY

SPECIES: Psathyrostachys juncea
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
Fire adaptations:  Pellant [120] lists Russian wildrye fire tolerant. Russian wildrye is adapted to survive fire by tillering. The densely tufted culms of Russian wildrye act as insulators, protecting the axillary buds located in the root crown [117].

Fire regimes: The historic fire regimes of grassland communities were generally of the stand replacement type. Fire frequency was highly variable because fires could occur in any given year as long as the grass was dry enough to burn and ignition sources were available. Fire return intervals probably ranged from 4 to 20 years in the plains grasslands and 5 to 40 years in the mountain grasslands, depending on climate and ignition sources. Native Americans ignited fires for a variety of reasons, and this was a predominant source of ignition at low to middle elevations in areas of high use. Grassland fuels, when cured and dry, are ideally suited for burning; however, bunchgrasses can be difficult to ignite regardless of their dryness. Historically, grassland fires would burn until a break in terrain or a change in weather stopped the fire, sometimes covering several hundred square miles [117].

Russian wildrye was not present in North America while historic fire regimes were still operating. It is unclear how Russian wildrye may affect or alter fire regimes in plant communities where it is present because as of this writing (2005), fire ecology studies are lacking for Russian wildrye. The following table provides some fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where Russian wildrye occurs. 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 [89,117]
Nebraska sandhills prairie A. gerardii var. paucipilus-S. scoparium < 10
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [117]
basin big sagebrush A. tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [134]
mountain big sagebrush A. tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [5,28,106]
Wyoming big sagebrush A. tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [156,175]
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus < 35 to < 100
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 5-100 [117]
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35 [117,174]
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass B. gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35 [117,133,174]
blue grama-buffalo grass B. gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35 [117,174]
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii < 35 to < 100
cheatgrass Bromus tectorum < 10 [121,165]
mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii < 35 to < 100
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70
Rocky Mountain juniper J. scopulorum < 35 [117]
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 5-47+ [117,127,174]
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [117]
Colorado pinyon P. edulis 10-400+ [52,57,85,117]
interior ponderosa pine* P. ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [4,13,94]
Arizona pine P. ponderosa var. arizonica 2-15 [13,34,135]
galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea < 35 to < 100 [117]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [3,4]
oak-juniper woodland (Southwest) Quercus-Juniperus spp. < 35 to < 200
little bluestem-grama prairie Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp. < 35 [117]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species review
**mean


POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY [147]:
Tussock graminoid

FIRE EFFECTS

SPECIES: Psathyrostachys juncea
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Fire often kills the aboveground parts of Russian wildrye, but not the roots or growing points in the root crown [113,144]. If fire does ignite the crown, the heat that is generated may kill the axillary buds, thus killing the entire plant [105].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT:
Moist bunchgrass root crowns are not likely to ignite and burn, and dry bunchgrass root crowns are not always consumed, especially in fires with high wind speeds [105]. Wind-driven, fast moving fires typical of grassland ecosystems [157] often burn through grass litter too quickly to ignite the crowns, resulting in little plant mortality [105]. Wright [172] found that the death of perennial grasses after a fire is usually attributable to heat. The moisture content of bunchgrass plants and the adjacent fuels affect the amount of heat that axillary buds receive. Fine textured bunchgrasses with densely clustered culms are often more severely damaged than coarse bunchgrasses [23]. Fire can remain burning in densely clustered culms 2-3 hours after the fire has passed, reaching temperatures of 1,000 oF (538 oC) [139]. Fire tends to burn more rapidly through small-diameter grass bunches compared to larger-diameter bunches. Larger bunches usually have more dead fuel and are thus more likely to generate enough heat to kill growing points [105]. Wright [173] suggests that early summer fires are more likely to kill perennial bunchgrasses than fall fires. Russian wildrye stems bend over at maturity [136], potentially creating more continuity of surface fuels to favor the spread of fire.

PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
After defoliation, Russian wildrye grows new tillers from axillary buds in the plant root crown [65]. Russian wildrye has been observed to sprout within weeks following fire [144].

DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
Russian wildrye regenerated well following a late August wildfire that burned through the Aberdeen plant materials testing fields in southeast Idaho. The fire burned rapidly through the test plots, and Russian wildrye had started to green up by October of the same year. By July of the following year, the Russian wildrye plots were all green and plants averaged 8 inches (20.6 cm) tall  [144].

Russian wildrye was favored by a spring burn of a cultivated field near Fargo, North Dakota. Canopy coverage of Russian wildrye was higher on the burned areas in the second postburn season (13%) than on the unburned areas (10.5%) [113].

FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Russian wildrye is commonly used in greenstrip plantings in sagebrush communities designed to act as fuelbreaks in case of wildfire [118,119]. According to Pellant [120], Russian wildrye meets the following criteria for vegetation used in greenstrips:  1) fire resistant throughout season; 2) drought tolerant and adapted to persist on semi-arid sites in competition with weeds; 3) palatable to herbivores yet not susceptible to mortality with grazing.

MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS

SPECIES: Psathyrostachys juncea
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Russian wildrye has been widely utilized for pasture and rangeland seeding throughout the Rocky Mountain states, the Intermountain West, and Northern Great Plains because of its drought, cold, and salt tolerance [97,123,164]. Although Russian wildrye was grown in nursery rows in North Dakota in 1907, the first recorded introduction was grown at Mandan, North Dakota, in 1927. Seed from this source was first released to the public in 1941 and 1942. Because of erratic seed yields, Russian wildrye did not come into common use until the 1950s [141]. Over the years, new Russian wildrye cultivars were developed with the emphases on improved seedling vigor, improved seedling emergence from deep planting, and reduced seed shattering [8]. The following is a list of Russian wildrye cultivars released as of 2005 [152]:

'Vinall' 1960
'Mayak' 1971
'Cabree' 1976
'Swift'' 1978
'Bozoisky-Select' 1984
'Tetracan' 1988
'Mankota' 1991
'Bozoisky II' 2004

Once established, Russian wildrye provides one of the best sources of forage on many semiarid rangelands [8]. The leaves have a longer growing season than most dryland grasses and have the ability to cure on the stem; this allows for a long grazing season. The forage yields per acre for Russian wildrye are usually not as high as other grasses, but the high digestibility and long season of use compensate for the lower yields [60]. Plants in new pastures should be allowed to mature and set seed before they are grazed [141]. Although Russian wildrye can be grazed from early spring to winter, it is often best to graze this grass lightly in the spring, and then again in late summer and fall when other grasses are unproductive or low in quality [8,102,141]. Grazing systems that utilize crested wheatgrass in spring, native range in summer, and Russian wildrye in late summer and fall have been recommended for maintaining high daily gains for beef cattle in the Northern Great Plains [102].

Russian wildrye recovers rapidly after grazing if adequate moisture is available and is tolerant of close grazing [82,136]. It is better utilized for pasture and range rather than hay production because most of the growth is from basal leaves, which are difficult to pick up with harvesting equipment [141].

Palatability/nutritional value: The palatability and nutritional value of Russian wildrye to livestock and wildlife have been rated as follows [43]:

  CO MT ND UT WY
Cattle Good Good Good Good Good
Domestic sheep Good Good Good Good Good
Horses Good Good Good Good Good
Pronghorn ---- ---- ---- Good Poor
Elk ---- ---- ---- Good Good
Mule deer ---- ---- ---- Good Poor
White-tailed deer ---- ---- ---- ---- Poor
Small mammals ---- ---- ---- Good ----
Small nongame birds ---- ---- ---- Good ----
Upland game birds ---- ---- ---- Good ----
Waterfowl ---- ---- ---- Poor ----

Deer mice eat Russian wildrye seeds, but in feeding tests, the seeds did not rank as "preferred" [47]. 'Bozoisky' wildrye was ranked as "avoided" by black-tailed jackrabbits in a feeding study near Burns, Oregon [54]. Angora goats "indifferently" graze Russian wildrye when crested wheatgrass is readily available [55].

The forage of Russian wildrye is nutritious, highly digestible, and it retains digestibility and high nutritive value into the fall and winter [6,33,64,142,166]. In a 2-year field study in eastern Montana, Russian wildrye averaged a crude protein level of 14.5%, and a phosphorus level of 0.27%, adequately meeting the requirements for a 1,000 pound (500 kg) lactating cow of  9% crude protein and 0.22% phosphorus [38]. Fat content usually averages about 1.62% [64].

Cook and Harris [33] compared spring season digestible protein levels in Russian wildrye and crested wheatgrass. They found that the digestible protein of Russian wildrye was 8.1% in early-spring and 7.4% in late-spring, compared to 10.6% early-spring and 3.9% late-spring for crested wheatgrass. The recommended digestible protein for lactating ewes is 5.4% in the first 8 weeks after lambing. Russian wildrye provides adequate protein throughout the crucial spring lactating period, whereas crested wheatgrass is inadequate toward the end of the period.

Grazing studies have generally shown that Russian wildrye's high nutritive values in late-summer and fall results in better late-season weight gains in cattle than other forage grasses. In a grazing study of Russian wildrye in Saskatchewan, Holt and Knipfel [71] found that over a 6-year period, the average daily weight gain in September and October was 0.75 pounds (0.34 kg) per day for cows and 2.2 pounds (1.0 kg) per days for calves.

One limitation of Russian wildrye as a forage grass is the potential for cattle to develop grass tetany, a deficiency of available magnesium caused by a high potassium: magnesium plus calcium ratio [10,77]. The grass tetany risk can be reduced by seeding Russian wildrye in mixtures with alfalfa (Medicago sativa) or other legumes [9].

Cover value: The degree to which Russian wildrye provides cover for wildlife species has been rated as follows [43]:

  UT WY
Small mammals Fair Good
Small nongame birds Fair Good
Upland game birds Fair Good
Waterfowl Poor Fair


VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
Russian wildrye has been used extensively to revegetate burned areas [1,27,41,111]. Reseeding after fire with Russian wildrye often provided quick cover and reduced the invasion of nondesirable invasives, such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), while providing for good livestock forage [111]. Plantings of Russian wildrye have generally been most successful when planted in pure stands and when Russian wildrye was drill-seeded, as opposed to broadcast or aerially seeded [74,111,115]. Lavin [94] suggested that Russian wildrye may be a good species to use when the revegetation goal is the recovery of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) seedlings; the bunch type growth of the grass will provide quick soil cover, but still permit the survival of the tree seedlings [94].

Russian wildrye has been commonly and effectively used in revegetation efforts to control invasive nonnatives including leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), diffuse knapweed (C. diffusa), Russian knapweed (C. repens), yellow starthistle (C. solstitialis), cheatgrass, halogeton (Halogeton glomeratus), Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), and musk thistle (Carduus nutans). Herbicide application, with or without cultivation, prior to seeding with Russian wildrye often improves the level of weed control [20,21,25,26,32,40,42,50,91,92,100,126,131,167,168,169,170].

Although Russian wildrye has been planted for erosion control, it is not especially suited for this purpose. When planted in pure stands, it does not naturally fill in between rows very quickly after planting [37,44,140,141]. A high percentage of bare ground is left exposed, increasing the risk of wind and water erosion [171]. However, in critical situations, planting Russian wildrye provides quick cover, giving better erosion control than no vegetation cover at all [87,94]. 

Attempts to use Russian wildrye to revegetate mine spoils have generally not been successful [49,104,109].

OTHER USES:
No information is available on this topic.

OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
There has been some concern expressed in the literature about using nonnatives for revegetating disturbed areas or improving rangeland forage. Monsen and McArthur [108] suggest that the use of nonnatives has been so successful on some sites that their longevity, adaptation, and competitive ability have made it difficult for native plants to recover or reestablish. Koehler [88] cautions that seeding efforts that involve the destruction of valuable wildlife browse, especially in key wintering areas, should not be attempted. He further suggests that seeding with nonnatives should only be done on an "emergency" basis in areas in particularly critical condition.

Dormaar and others [44] compared native rangeland to 17- to 27-year-old cultivated monocultures of Russian wildrye in southern Canada. The native range had about 7.5 times more root mass in the upper soil horizons, and soils in the native rangeland had significantly more (P<0.01) organic matter. The wide spacing used for the seeding of the Russian wildrye resulted in 44% bare ground exposure, compared to less than 5% for the native range.

As of this writing (2005), Russian wildrye is apparently not considered invasive or noxious.

The biggest limitation in growing Russian wildrye is the difficulty of establishment. Seeding depth is the most crucial factor determining successful establishment. Seed establishment is enhanced by seeding into a firm, weed-free seedbed at a depth of less than 1 inch (2.5 cm). Seeding can be done in early spring, in summer if soil moisture is adequate, or in late fall once soil temperatures remain below 45 oF (4.4 oC). Row spacings of  2 to 3 feet (0.7-0.9 m) are recommended for pastures in dry areas, and 1 to 2 feet (0.3-0.7 m) in areas where the annual precipitation is above 14 inches (35.6 cm) [70,154].

Although Russian wildrye will produce seed well on relatively fertile dryland soils, seeds are difficult to harvest due to lodging and shattering [136]. The relatively high moisture content and softness of the seed can lead to damage during harvesting and reduced germination potential. Seeds should be harvested in the firm dough stage with a combine set at a slow cylinder speed (1,000 rpm). Seeds harvested in this stage will need to be dried before storage [154]. Binding and field curing is an alternative method of seed harvest [12,31,154]. Nitrogen fertilization is necessary to maintain high seed yields of Russian wildrye for many years [154].

Russian wildrye is subject to attack by grasshoppers and cutworms [141], but is relatively resistant to the bluegrass billbug [7,112]. Russian wildrye is resistant to barley-yellow-dwarf virus [110], but is susceptible to Septoria leaf spot disease [18] and head smut [150].

Russian wildrye has been artificially hybridized with bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) [160], durum wheat (Triticum durum) [110], and a Russian/Asian wildrye species (Elymus coreanus) [78].

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