SPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
SPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Carey, Jennifer H. 1994. Scolochloa festucacea. 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 : SCOFES SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : SCFE COMMON NAMES : common river grass whitetop rivergrass sprangletop TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for common river grass is Scolochloa festucacea (Willd.) Link (Poaceae) [13,14,16,19,23]. There are no currently accepted infrataxa. LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : See OTHER STATUS OTHER STATUS : The Nature Conservancy Heritage Program lists common river grass as critically imperiled in Wyoming because of extreme rarity .
SPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Common river grass has a circumpolar distribution. In North America, it occurs primarily in the Northern Great Plains and Prairie Pothole region of the United States and Canada from Nebraska and Iowa north through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta to the Northwest Territories. Disjunct populations occur in eastern Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska [13,14,16,17,19,23]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES41 Wet grasslands STATES : AK IA MN MT NE ND OR SD UT WY AB BC MB NT SK BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 5 Columbia Plateau 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 14 Great Plains 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K049 Tule marshes K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie K098 Northern floodplain forest SAF COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Common river grass occurs in emergent communities of seasonally flooded wetlands. It often occurs in bands along the shore, bordered by cattail (Typha spp.) or bulrush (Scirpus spp.) in deeper water and slough sedge (Carex atherodes) on the shallower, drier side . It also occurs in shallow basins within common reed (Phragmites australis) stands . Common river grass forms monospecific stands in moderately saline wetlands. It is not as likely to attain dominance in fresh or saltwater wetlands . Common river grass is most commonly associated with slough sedge [3,6,36]. Other important associates include common spikerush (Eleocharis macrostachya), American sloughgrass (Beckmannia syzigachne), American mannagrass (Glyceria grandis), and bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis) [4,25,36]. Minor associates include perennial sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), smartweed (Polygonum spp.), field mint (Mentha arvensis), rough bugleweed (Lycopus asper), marsh hedgenettle (Stachys palustris), and Canada germander (Teucrium canadense) . Common river grass is listed as a dominant or codominant in the following publications: 1. Landscape classification and plant successional trends in the Peace-Athabasca Delta  2. Riparian dominance types of Montana  3. The vegetation of the Canadian prairie provinces. III. Aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation  4. The vegetation of the Canadian prairie provinces. III. Aquatic and semi-aquatic vegetation, Part 2. Freshwater marshes and bogs  5. The vegetation of Alberta 
MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONSSPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Common river grass provides important habitat for nesting waterfowl [10,39]. Dabbling ducks including mallards, northern pintails, gadwalls, widgeons, northern shovelers, blue-winged teals, and green-winged teals nest in common river grass. White-winged scoters, redheads, and lesser scaups occasionally nest in common river grass . American bitterns, northern harriers, and short-eared owls nest in tall coarse wet-meadow or marsh vegetation including common river grass . Common river grass provides valuable forage for cattle . PALATABILITY : Common river grass is highly palatable to livestock . NUTRITIONAL VALUE : Kirby and others  measured percent digestibility, protein, and phosphorus during four seasons: late spring, early summer, mid-summer, and late summer. Common river grass had good protein and digestibility levels early in the season, but levels declined rapidly after seedfill . Smith  investigated the effect of growth stage, mowing, and burning on common river grass nutrient levels. Two growth stage patterns emerged: common river grass nitrogen levels decreased through the flowering stage, then increased, and potassium levels decreased throughout the growing season. Burning and mowing during the previous year did not affect common river grass nutrient levels. Postflowering average dry-weight nutrient levels of common river grass, undisturbed by burning or mowing during the previous growing season, were as follows: 1.02 percent nitrogen, 0.12 percent calcium, 0.08 percent magnesium, 1.2 percent potassium, and 0.0054 percent sodium . COVER VALUE : Common river grass provides good nesting cover for some waterfowl, shorebirds, and ground-nesting raptors [7,10,39]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Neill  studied the effect of fertilizer on common river grass marshes in Manitoba. Common river grass biomass increased after 1 year but decreased after 2 years of fertilizing with nitrogen. The second year decrease was attributed to the mat of litter created by the tall weakened culms which resulted from the first fertilizer application. Phosphorus had no effect on common river grass biomass . Moderate to heavy grazing decreases common river grass productivity. The soft rhizomes which are near the soil surface may be damaged by trampling . If heavily grazed, common river grass may be replaced by bulrush . Eldridge  describes management strategies for maintaining semipermanent wetlands in the Prairie Pothole region.
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICSSPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Common river grass is an emergent, perennial, rhizomatous cool-season grass which grows 2.6 to 4.9 feet (0.8-1.5 m) tall. The stout culms are hollow and 0.1 to 0.2 inches (3-5 mm) in diameter near the base. The extensive rhizomes are soft, thick, and succulent [13,23,36]. Some authors [5,17] suggest common river grass is an introduced species to the United States because of its scattered distribution. However, abundant collection of common river grass in North Dakota over a long period of time suggests that it is native . RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Hemicryptophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Common river grass regenerates and spreads primarily by shallow rhizomes. In North Dakota, a road grader removed the vegetation from a site dominated by hardstem bulrush (Scirpus acutus). The following growing season, the cleared area was dominated by common river grass with 90 stems per square foot (998 stems/sq m) while water was still 16 inches (40 cm) deep. Common river grass regenerated from rhizomes in the substrate . Although common river grass generally produces abundant seeds, it does so only if wetlands contain water early in the spring . Seeds are dispersed by water movement and accumulate in the seedbank [34,43]. Smith  tested the effects of stratification temperatures and times on germination of wet and dry common river grass seeds. Results were variable. Galinato and van der Valk  reported that stratification does not improve common river grass germination. Seed burial, which occurs with inundation, is required for common river grass emergence. Anaerobic conditions stimulate fermentation which increases the germination rate. In summer, anaerobic conditions increase as water levels decrease and potholes stagnate. Seeds, which have been stimulated by early season anaerobic conditions, germinate when light reaches the substrate and the ground is no longer submerged [11,36]. A seed burial depth of 0.4 inches (1 cm) maximizes emergence and seedling length and weight . Seedlings can reach the soil surface from a maximum depth of 2 inches (5 cm) . Smith  found no seedlings in areas with heavy litter accumulation. Few common river grass seedlings become established. A seedling must have a rhizome to survive the winter. Seedlings produce a rhizome 30 to 60 days after emergence. The window of time between germination and dormancy is often too short to produce a rhizome . Merendino and others [29,30] investigated common river grass establishment and success on artificially created mudflats subject to reflooding 1 year later at different depths. Mudflats were created at four drawdown dates: May 15, June 15, July 15, and August 15. Seedling density, measured on August 30, was highest with the June 15 and July 15 drawdowns. The soil may have been too cold for germination in May. The plots were reflooded the following May with four depths: 0, 6, 12, and 20 inches (0, 15, 30, and 50 cm). By August 30, most 1-year-old common river grass seedlings had died with 12 inches (30 cm) or more of continuous flooding [29,30]. McKee and others  investigated root metabolic response of common river grass to flooding. Common river grass has insufficient air space development in the roots to allow complete aerobic metabolism during prolonged flooding. It is not as tolerant of flooding as hybrid cattail (Typha glauca), hardstem bulrush, softstem bulrush (Scirpus validus), or common reed . SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Common river grass grows in northern climates where the winters are cold. It occurs in seasonally flooded wetlands including wet depressed meadows, prairie potholes, and lake and river margins [4,20,36]. Common river grass shoots have been observed elongating in 32 degree Fahrenheit (0 deg C) water . Common river grass occurs in freshwater and saline wetlands, with optimal occurrence in oligosaline water [20,26]. Common river grass germination is substantially reduced by soil sodium chloride concentrations of 1,000 parts per million and higher [11,38]. Optimal seedling emergence occurred in soil containing 250 parts per million sodium chloride. Seedling emergence decreased steadily as magnesium chloride concentrations increased from 0 to 6,000 parts per million . Common river grass has been reported in water with specific conductivity as low as 0.1 and as high as 12.1 millisiemens per centimeter, with a mean of 3.4 [20,38]. Common river grass occurs in the shallow marsh zone which is inundated by snowmelt water until June or July . The soil surface does not dry out except possibly at the end of the growing season . The thick, corky epidermis of the rhizomes prevents desiccation by drying or freezing . Established common river grass is generally tolerant of continuous flooding for 1 to 2 years, with individual plants surviving as many as 5 to 6 years . Common river grass grows on mineral soils high in clay with some organic matter [15,36]. In the Peace-Athabasca Delta of Alberta, average particle distribution of the mineral fraction of common river grass sites was 5 percent sand, 49 percent silt, and 46 percent clay. Organic content in the upper 12 inches (30 cm) averaged 23 percent, and soil pH averaged 6 . SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Common river grass colonizes exposed mud flats [14,20,43]. Once established, it persists under a seasonally flooded regime. Common river grass occupies a fairly specific environment with respect to water level. It is replaced by cattail and bulrush when average water levels rise and by sedge (Carex spp.) and American mannagrass when average water levels drop [4,32]. On nutrient-rich saline sites with stable water levels, common river grass and slough sedge replace cattail as the pond bottom gradually builds up with silt and organic matter . SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Common river grass shoot emergence is initiated from mid-April to mid-May while the ground is still inundated with water. Deeply submerged plants break the water surface at the same time as plants in shallow water. Flowers develop in May. Seeds mature from mid-June to late July. Germination of 1-year-old or older seeds occurs from mid-July to late August when the ground surface is no longer inundated. Rhizomes are produced from late August to mid-September. Dormancy begins in late September and early October .
FIRE ECOLOGYSPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Common river grass resists fire by sprouting from rhizomes. It occurs on sites that most often experience fire in late summer or early fall when no longer flooded. Fire benefits common river grass stands by removing excess litter which suppresses common river grass growth . Fire may also create openings in other plant communities, allowing common river grass to establish . POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil FIRE REGIMES : 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".
FIRE EFFECTSSPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Common river grass is probably top-killed by fire. Rhizomes may be damaged by fires which occur during drought when the soil is dry and litter moisture content is low. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Common river grass sprouts from rhizomes after fire. Fall fire removes the dead standing culms and accumulated litter, allowing unimpeded spring growth. In North Dakota, spring growth was initiated earlier on burned sites than on unburned sites, possibly because soil and water temperatures were higher where the litter had been removed by fire . In Saskatchewan, each of 13 marsh stands composed of common river grass, slough sedge, and common spikerush was burned one to four times during a 10-year study period. The species composition did not change . In Manitoba, common river grass shoots emerged 5 days after a late July fire and were 4 inches (10 cm) tall after 10 days. At the end of the growing season, common river grass on burned and unburned areas averaged 19.5 inches (49.5 cm) and 37.4 inches (95.0 cm) tall, respectively. Stem density was less on burned areas. After the next full growing season, common river grass stem height was still less but stem density was greater on burned areas. The fire opened up stands of common reed and stimulated growth of common river grass within these stands. Red goosefoot (Chenopodium rubrum) established with the regenerating common river grass, especially where common river grass roots had been killed as peaty humus burned . DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : NO-ENTRY FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Prescribed fall burning of common river grass increases biomass production [4,37]. In North Dakota, burned stands averaged 11,580 kilograms per hectare and unburned stands averaged 7,480 kilograms per hectare. Fire did not affect the nutrient levels in common river grass . Diiro  investigated the effects of burning and mowing on common river grass ponds and associated wildlife in Manitoba. Fall fires were conducted after the first hard frost and spring fires were conducted during dry days from early April to June. Fall prescribed burns had greater stem densities and biomass the following growing season than did unburned control sites, mowed sites, spring prescribed burns, or sites undisturbed for one growing season. Diiro  concluded that prescribed burning to increase common river grass biomass has detrimental effects on wetland wildlife. Burning is most feasible in dry years when wildlife are most susceptible because of decreased habitat availability. Ponds are more likely to contain water in the spring if they were not burned in the fall. Dead, standing common river grass culms catch and retain snow, and fall burning decreases this moisture retention capability. Diiro  recommended fall prescribed burning only in areas that do not rely on snow trapped within ponds as a water source. Even when feasible, he does not recommend spring fires because they destroy nests.
REFERENCESSPECIES: Scolochloa festucacea
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