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SPECIES: Elymus lanceolatus


Scher, Janette S. 2002. Elymus lanceolatus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: /database/feis/plants/graminoid/elelan/all.html [].


Agropyron dasystachyum (Hook.) Scribn. [31,38,46,54,65,66,67,81,85,91,121]
Agropyron dasystachyum (Hook.) Vasey [98]
Elytrigia dasystachya (Hook.) A & D. Love [53]


thickspike wheatgrass
northern wheatgrass
streambank wheatgrass

The currently accepted scientific name of thickspike wheatgrass is Elymus lanceolatus (Scribn. & Sm.) Gould (Poaceae) [39,40,57,64,119,124,125].

There are 2 subspecies of thickspike wheatgrass: Elymus lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus (Scribn. & Sm.) Gould [57,64,80] and Elymus lanceolatus ssp. psammophilus (Gillett & Senn) A. Love [80]. Wheatgrasses are members of the tribe Triticeae [35]. Thickspike wheatgrass hybridizes with bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata) [35,117] and slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus) [57]. 


No special status

Thickspike wheatgrass (E. l. subsp. psammophilus) is threatened in Wisconsin [127].


SPECIES: Elymus lanceolatus
Thickspike wheatgrass is widespread in western North America. Elymus lanceolatus ssp. lanceolatus occurs from Alaska south through Canada into northern California; from North Dakota south through Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico, and west to the Pacific coast [31,47,63,66,67,81,85,91,98,118,125]. It is common in the northern Rocky Mountains and adjacent Great Plains regions [19,119] and is also found along the shores of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron [118,121]. Elymus lanceolatus ssp. psammophilus occurs only along the shores of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron. 

FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES19 Aspen-birch
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
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


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 None

K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K031 Oak-juniper woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K039 Blackbrush
K040 Saltbush-greasewood
K050 Fescue-wheatgrass
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
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalo grass
K069 Bluestem-grama prairie
K070 Sandsage-bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska sandhills prairie

16 Aspen
18 Paper birch
210 Interior Douglas-fir
216 Blue spruce
217 Aspen
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
240 Arizona cypress
241 Western live oak
242 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
244 Pacific ponderosa pine
247 Jeffrey pine
252 Paper birch

101 Bluebunch wheatgrass
102 Idaho fescue
104 Antelope bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
105 Antelope bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
210 Bitterbrush
212 Blackbush
301 Bluebunch wheatgrass-blue grama
302 Bluebunch wheatgrass-Sandberg bluegrass
303 Bluebunch wheatgrass-western wheatgrass
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
309 Idaho fescue-western wheatgrass
310 Needle-and-thread-blue grama
311 Rough fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
312 Rough fescue-Idaho fescue
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
317 Bitterbrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
318 Bitterbrush-Idaho fescue
319 Bitterbrush-rough fescue
320 Black sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
321 Black sagebrush-Idaho fescue
322 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany-bluebunch wheatgrass
323 Shrubby cinquefoil-rough 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
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
414 Salt desert shrub
415 Curlleaf mountain-mahogany
416 True mountain-mahogany
417 Littleleaf mountain-mahogany
501 Saltbush-greasewood
502 Grama-galleta
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
601 Bluestem prairie
602 Bluestem-prairie sandreed
603 Prairie sandreed-needlegrass
604 Bluestem-grama prairie
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
615 Wheatgrass-saltgrass-grama
704 Blue grama-western wheatgrass
705 Blue grama-galleta
712 Galleta-alkali sacaton
715 Grama-buffalo grass
722 Sand sagebrush-mixed prairie
725 Vine mesquite-alkali sacaton
905 Bluejoint reedgrass
906 Broadleaf forest
914 Mesic sedge-grass-herb meadow tundra
915 Mixed herb-herbaceous
920 White spruce-paper birch

Thickspike wheatgrass is common from sandy shores and dunes to heavy alkaline flats and from sagebrush desert or grasslands to foothill woodlands [31,46,57,66,67,85,98,118]. It is also found in dry to moist prairie habitats and disturbed areas such as roadsides and railroads [57,63,81,118,121,125].

Classifications describing communities in which thickspike wheatgrass is dominant are as follows:
Idaho [108]
Nevada [126]
North Dakota [102]
Utah [126]
Wyoming [113]
Alberta [27,28,29]
Saskatchewan [27,28,29]


SPECIES: Elymus lanceolatus
Thickspike wheatgrass is a long-lived [119], cool-season, North American native grass. Culms are erect and hollow, 6 to 50 inches (15-130 cm) tall [31,54,57,65,67,85,91,98,118]. Blades are flat or involute, 0.04 to 0.20 inch (0.1-0.5 cm) wide and 0.8 to10 inches (2-25 cm) long [31,54,57,64,65,67,85,98,118,125]. Inflorescences are terminal, erect, compact spikes, 1 to 9 inches (3-22 cm) tall. Solitary or occasionally paired spikelets have 2 to11 flowers that are 0.2 to 0.9 inch (0.6-2.4 cm) long [31,54,57,64,67,98,118,125]. The plant produces a 1-seeded, indehiscent caryopsis fruit [48,66,101]. Hallsten and others [57], Hitchcock and Cronquist [66], and Welsh and others [125] provide detailed morphological descriptions and identification keys for thickspike wheatgrass.

This perennial, sod-forming grass [8,10,31,54,65,67,80,119,125] has an extensive creeping rhizome system [54,57,64,65,67,91,118,119,124] with a few deep roots [119]. Average maximum root depth of mature, well-developed thickspike wheatgrass is approximately 15 inches (38 cm). Most of the root mass is confined to the upper 8 inches (24 cm) of soil and is so dense in well-established plants that percolation through the root system is slow and encroachment of other species with deeper root systems may be inhibited [118].

Thickspike wheatgrass is often dominant in its habitat, and it may appear in small, pure stands over localized areas [118]. However, large, pure stands are rare [10,118].


Breeding system: Thickspike wheatgrass reproduces vegetatively through long, creeping rhizomes and sexually by seeds [131]. On sand dunes and sandy soils, it spreads mainly by rhizomes, but under favorable conditions it may establish from shattered seeds [132].

Pollination: Unlike most other species of its genus, thickspike wheatgrass is an outcrossing species [11,61].

Seed production: Thickspike wheatgrass has excellent seed production. Production rates range from 200 pounds per acre (270 kg/ha) on dryland [110] to 350 to 400 pounds per acre (480-540 kg/ha)  under irrigation [56,109,110]. Increased production is associated with higher rainfall or irrigation [109,110].

Seed dispersal: No information

Seed banking: Persistent seed banks appear to be important for thickspike wheatgrass populations' survival. Thickspike wheatgrass seeds in dune systems along Lake Erie and Lake Huron accumulated in unevenly spaced depressions after dispersal. Seeds were not dormant at maturity. Nearly all buried thickspike wheatgrass seeds were capable of immediate germination in favorable conditions; few were dead. Average seed life was 3 to 4 years [132]. A study of effects of sand burial on thickspike wheatgrass seeds reported that both percent germination and percent emergence of buried seeds were negatively correlated with burial depth. Burial of young seedlings up to 2.4 inches (6 cm) deep enhanced growth in height, leaf and tiller production, and overall dry weight of thickspike wheatgrass [131].

A study of the effects of fire on ecosystem seed banks in Yellowstone National Park reported thickspike wheatgrass seeds were present in the seed banks of undisturbed Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)/common snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) habitat types and in burned areas of Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis)/bluebunch wheatgrass habitat types [26].

Germination: Under ideal conditions, germination of thickspike wheatgrass occurs in 21 days [123]. Prechilling appears to improve germination [119,123].

Seedling establishment/growth: Thickspike wheatgrass seedlings sprout and grow vigorously, and the species spreads rapidly via rhizomes once the population is established [19,70,119].

Asexual regeneration: Thickspike wheatgrass spreads primarily via vegetative reproduction from rhizomes [70]. Several shoots may arise from 1 node of the rhizome [28], and the plant may produce numerous vegetative stems [45,77,78]. Rhizomes may be up to 6 inches (15 cm) long [72,73].

The clonal plasticity of thickspike wheatgrass's rhizome systems is important in foraging for favorable sites as well as for interacting with neighboring root systems [69]. The plant may produce numerous short rhizomes in high-nutrient patches, allowing more efficient foraging in soil with patchy nutrient availability [72]. Under competition from other plants, it tends to produce fewer rather than shorter rhizomes [73]. Thickspike wheatgrass had more closely-spaced stems when surrounded by a high density of neighboring plants [74]. 

Soil: Thickspike wheatgrass is usually found in dry, medium- to coarse-textured, sandy to gravelly to loamy soils in open areas and dunes [10,19,31,47,110,118]. It tolerates soil pH of 6.0 to 9.5 [61]. Preferred substrate types of thickspike wheatgrass for some states in its range are as follows:

California dry, sandy [98]
Colorado sandy or gravelly soil [63]; rocky slopes and moist borrow pits [124]
Idaho loess soils in southern part of state
Montana glacial outwash fans
Washington stabilized sand dunes in eastern part of state [119]
Wisconsin sand dunes and beaches along Lake Michigan [46]
Wyoming shay or gravelly soil [57]

Elevation: The natural geographic range of thickspike wheatgrass is from near sea level in the Great Lakes region to 11,000 feet (3,350 m) in the Rocky Mountains [119,125]. Elevation ranges for some states are as follows:

California 1,640-4,000 feet (500-1,200 m) [64,98]
Colorado 5,000-10,000 feet (1,520-3,050 m) [63]
Idaho up to 10,000 feet (3,050 m) [118]
New Mexico 6,000-8,000 feet (1,830-2,440 m) [91]
Utah 4,000-11,000 feet (1,220-3,350 m) [125]

Topography/aspect: Thickspike wheatgrass favors north-east slopes in the coulees of the Oldman River, Alberta [90] and north-facing slopes in southern Alberta grasslands [30].

Moisture regimes: Thickspike wheatgrass prefers moist, well-drained soils [70] and is most abundant in areas that receive 8-20 inches (200-500 mm) of precipitation annually [68,109]. The species can withstand moderate flooding, but will not tolerate long periods of inundation, poorly drained soils, or excessive irrigation [61,119]. Thickspike wheatgrass is known for its drought resistance [8,23,34,70]; in extreme drought conditions, the plant becomes dormant but recovers quickly when watered. Under severe water stress, it can develop negative turgor pressure, and in hot, dry conditions, the leaves roll into a tight, cylindrical shape [92]. 

Tolerance for harsh environments: Thickspike wheatgrass will tolerate slightly acidic to moderately saline conditions. It is cold tolerant, moderately tolerant to intolerant of shade, highly tolerant of grazing, and very tolerant of fire [61,119]. Its relatively low nutrient requirements allow it to establish on mine spoils, depleted rangelands, and other disturbed areas [61].

Thickspike wheatgrass is found in all successional stages. A study of primary succession on coastal Lake Michigan sand dunes aged 25-2,375 years old reported occurrence of thickspike wheatgrass on dunes aged 55-225 years, with a peak occurrence on dunes 145-175 years old [89]. It is found in early-succession as well as mid- to late-succession communities in the Great Lakes area of Wisconsin [20]. Thickspike wheatgrass is listed as a dominant species in the climax vegetation of the eastern glaciated plains and the western sedimentary plains of Montana [105]. It is a dominant in the climax communities of two ungrazed mesas in western North Dakota [102].

A postfire succession study in southeastern Idaho reported that thickspike wheatgrass was most abundant in earlier successional stages, though it was common in all stages. Its tolerance of competition accounts for its presence in later stages of postfire vegetation development [71].

Thickspike wheatgrass flowers in the Pacific Northwest from May through July [67] and from June through August in the Intermountain region [31] and Great Plains [54]. It flowers in June and July in California [98] and New Mexico [91]. Seeds mature from July to early August [131]. In Canada, growth begins mid-April, flowering occurs in early July, seeds mature from July to September, and foliage remains partially green until late September or early October [28].

Infection of thickspike wheatgrass root systems by mycorrhizal fungi may delay phenology [2]. Defoliation, which results from grazing, may also alter the phenology [94]. Cooler temperatures and less droughty conditions may prolong later stages of growth in Canada [28].

The following phenology data are averages from a study in the Snake River Plains, Idaho [18]:

Growth starts 4/1
Flower stalks appear 5/21
Heads fully out 6/16
Flowers in bloom 6/27
Seed ripe 7/27
Dissemination starts 8/8
Dissemination over 8/20
Plant dried 8/11


SPECIES: Elymus lanceolatus
Fire adaptations: Wheatgrasses are generally fire resistant [22], and thickspike wheatgrass is quite tolerant of fire [17,123]. Subsurface growing points and primarily rhizomatous reproduction may explain its ability to increase rapidly (within 2-5 years) following burning [52,114,130].

Fire regimes: Fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems in which thickspike wheatgrass occurs are summarized below. 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)
sagebrush steppe Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata 20-70 [99]
basin big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. tridentata 12-43 [107]
mountain big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana 15-40 [7,24,95]
Wyoming big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata var. wyomingensis 10-70 (40**) [120,129]
saltbush-greasewood Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus < 35 to < 100 
desert grasslands Bouteloua eriopoda and/or Pleuraphis mutica 5-100 
plains grasslands Bouteloua spp. < 35 
blue grama-needle-and-thread grass-western wheatgrass Bouteloua gracilis-Hesperostipa comata-Pascopyrum smithii < 35 
blue grama-buffalo grass Bouteloua gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides < 35 
grama-galleta steppe Bouteloua gracilis-Pleuraphis jamesii < 35 to < 100 
blackbrush Coleogyne ramosissima < 35 to < 100 
western juniper Juniperus occidentalis 20-70 
Rocky Mountain juniper Juniperus scopulorum < 35 
creosotebush Larrea tridentata < 35 to < 100 
wheatgrass plains grasslands Pascopyrum smithii < 35 
pinyon-juniper Pinus-Juniperus spp. < 35 [99]
interior ponderosa pine* Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum 2-30 [6,9,88]
galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea < 35 to < 100 [99]
aspen-birch Populus tremuloides-Betula papyrifera 35-200 [42,122]
quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains) Populus tremuloides 7-120 [6,55,93]
mountain grasslands Pseudoroegneria spicata 3-40 (10**) [5,6]
Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir* Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca 25-100 [6]
*fire return interval varies widely; trends in variation are noted in the species summary

Surface rhizome/chamaephytic root crown in organic mantle or on soil surface
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Tussock graminoid
Caudex/herbaceous root crown, growing points in soil
Geophyte, growing points deep in soil
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Initial off-site colonizer (off-site, initial community)
Secondary colonizer (on-site or off-site seed sources)


SPECIES: Elymus lanceolatus
Thickspike wheatgrass is top-killed by burning [17,106].

A study of lightning-caused fires in grasslands of Saskatchewan reported that on moist sites with gentle slopes, where preburn vegetation was probably dense, fire was severe enough to kill thickspike wheatgrass over areas up to 10 feet (3.1 m) in diameter [106].

Though thickspike wheatgrass is initially injured by fire, it increases afterward [21,22]. Because its roots can survive fire and the plant produces new above-ground growth each year, it can recover within 1 to 5 years [17,71,114,128,130]. Compared to prefire conditions, production may increase 2 to 3 times or more within a 3 to 4 year period after fire [1,17,100,114]. After planned fires in big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)-grass habitat, thickspike wheatgrass spreads quickly and may dominate the ground cover [123]. 

Studies of prescribed burns in big sagebrush communities have reported that herbaceous plants increase rapidly and exceed preburn production by postburn year 3. Increased production by rhizomatous species, including thickspike wheatgrass, comprised the majority of production increases [97].

In southeastern Idaho, a 1st year postfire study of a sagebrush community reported that relative density of thickspike wheatgrass on the burned plot was more than 3 times greater than on the unburned plot, indicating a vigorous response to fire. This may be due to reduced competition from species such as big sagebrush [1]. In big sagebrush rangeland, thickspike wheatgrass increased within 1 to 4 years after prescribed burning on 9 of 10 study sites. On those 9 sites, wheatgrasses (western wheatgrass and thickspike wheatgrass combined) increased an average of 756% after burning [114].

In a postfire study on the Snake River Plains in Idaho, thickspike wheatgrass recovered rapidly from injury by fire. It had increased noticeably on burned areas by the end of the 1st growing season after burning. Within 3 years postfire, it was producing substantially more herbage on burned plots than on unburned plots. Higher yields were associated with heavier burns. Fifteen years postfire, productivity had declined on all burns but burned areas still had significantly (p<0.01) higher production than unburned areas [17].

The following data are from a 30-year study of a big sagebrush-grass range on the Upper Snake River Plains, Idaho, where prescribed burns were conducted in the fall of 1936. Thickspike wheatgrass yields on the burned plots surpassed those on the unburned plots within 3 years postfire before declining slowly over the next 27 years. Still, yields on burned plots remained higher after 30 years than yields prior to the burn. The table compares annual herbage production (pounds/acre, air-dry) on unburned and burned areas for selected postfire years [62].

  1936 1937 1939 1948 1966
unburned 87 117 175 90 152
burned 63 81 249 179 92

One study of semiarid mixed grassland reported that soil and plant water potentials in thickspike wheatgrass decreased as the 1st season progressed after an accidental October burn. This may explain decreases in primary productivity following fire in similar habitats [104].

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 thickspike wheatgrass, that was not available when this species review was originally written.

Fall burning in natural grasslands strongly favors thickspike wheatgrass and other rhizomatous grasses [97]. Spring burning, after new growth has begun, can severely injure thickspike wheatgrass [130]. Because it is green most of the summer and has a relatively low stature, thickspike wheatgrass is less of a fire hazard than taller species [123]. Improper grazing practices following fire in sagebrush range have resulted in a 39% reduction in thickspike wheatgrass, compared to a 93% increase under proper grazing management. Pechanec and others [100] provide specific postfire management recommendations for sagebrush rangelands. These include protection from grazing for 1 full year, followed by careful management of grazing; and special protection against recurrent fires for areas more than half covered by cheatgrass.


SPECIES: Elymus lanceolatus
Palatability/nutritional value: Thickspike wheatgrass's low stature and fine herbage make it more palatable than some other wheatgrasses. As the seasons progress, it becomes wiry and palatability decreases [118]. The plant is palatable to some extent to livestock and all classes of wildlife [115,119]. In the spring, it is a preferred feed for cattle, domestic sheep, horses, and elk and is considered desirable feed for deer and antelope. It is desirable feed for cattle, sheep, horses, and elk during summer, fall, and winter [119]. Thickspike wheatgrass is also a component of black-tailed jackrabbit diets [3,49,109]. Palatability of cultivars varies [25,50,79].

Degree of use shown by livestock and wildlife species for thickspike wheatgrass is rated as follows [37]:

cattle Good Good Good Good Good
domestic sheep Fair Fair Fair Fair Good
horses Fair Good Good Good Good
pronghorn ---- Poor Poor Fair Fair
elk ---- Fair Good Good ----
mule deer ---- Poor Poor Good Fair
white-tailed deer ---- Poor Poor ---- Fair
small mammals ---- Poor ---- Good Fair
small nongame birds ---- Poor ---- Fair Fair
upland game birds ---- ---- ---- Fair Fair
waterfowl ---- ---- ---- Fair Fair

Protein levels in thickspike wheatgrass can reach 20% in spring, but they decrease to about 4% as the plant matures and cures. Digestible carbohydrates remain approximately 45% throughout the active growth period [119]. The following data are from a study of the chemical composition of plants of the rough fescue (Festuca altaica) association. The table shows the chemical composition of thickspike wheatgrass collected at 5 different stages of growth. As with other grasses, forbs, and shrubs studied, crude protein and phosphorus decreased as the plants matured. Carotene also decreased with maturity in thickspike wheatgrasses [76].

  leaf stage heading seed-ripe cured weathered
dry matter % 91.95 ± 1.35 92.40 ± 0.40 93.80 ± 1.50 93.30 96.40 ± 0.10
protein % 11.45 ± 1.50 8.30 ± 0.40 9.70 ± 0.90 6.80 4.30 ± 0.40
crude fat % 2.60 ± 0.10 3.05 ± 0.45 4.65 ± 0.25 2.70 2.15 ± 0.07
crude fiber % 32.05 ± 0.07 34.70 ± 0.30 33.70 ± 0.10 33.30 39.39 ± 0.00
ash % 5.45 ± 0.75 5.35 ± 0.25 5.70 ± 0.30 4.80 4.40 ± 0.60
calcium % 0.24 ± 0.08 0.19 ± 0.03 0.39 ± 0.05 0.38 0.34 ± 0.09
phosphorus % 0.14 ± 0.02 0.15 ± 0.03 0.14 ± 0.01 0.08 0.06 ± 0.00
carotene mg/kg 42.65 ± 14.00 39.25 ± 5.15 18.85 ± 7.75 7.5 1.75 ± 0.95

Thickspike wheatgrass is excellent for grazing, especially when planted in association with other grasses [70]. The plant provides at least fair forage for all classes of livestock [118,125], and merits reseeding trials on rangelands [118]. It is a valuable source of forage for grazing during summer, when many other grasses are past their productive and nutritive peak [8]. In the Red Desert and Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, it has been noted as 1 of the highest forage producers [119].

Cover value: Thickspike wheatgrass provides nesting cover for Canada geese on islands in the Columbia River, Washington [58], and one source reports that it provides good upland bird cover [123]. The degree to which thickspike wheatgrass provides cover for other wildlife species is as follows [37]:

Small mammals Fair Fair Good
Small nongame birds Fair Fair Good
Upland game birds Fair Fair Fair
Waterfowl Good Fair Fair

Thickspike wheatgrass is valued more for special purpose applications than for production as forage [61]. The Bureau of Land Management has identified the plant as a high-priority species for restoration of rangelands in the Great Basin and Columbia Plateau [59,60]. It is commonly used in revegetation of oil and gas well sites, pipeline construction areas, roadsides, and other construction sites that will receive little or no maintenance [61,64]. It is a good revegetation species because it forms tight sod under dry rangeland conditions, has good seedling strength, and performs well in low fertility or eroded sites [15,61]. Numerous cultivars of thickspike wheatgrass are commercially available, including 'Bannock,' 'Critana,' 'Elbee,' 'Schwendimar,' 'Secar,' and 'Sodar' [8,119]. 

Drought tolerance and rhizome systems make the species ideal for reclamation in areas that receive 8-20 inches (200-500 mm) annual precipitation [61,119]. It is especially useful in areas that receive 5-9 inches (130-230 mm) [10,119]. Thickspike wheatgrass is often used in urban areas, where irrigation water is limited, to provide ground cover and stabilize ditch banks, dikes, and roadsides [119].

Though thickspike wheatgrass does not compete well with aggressive, introduced grasses while it is establishing, it is quite compatible with native species that develop more slowly, such as bluebunch wheatgrass, western wheatgrass, and needlegrass (Stipa spp.) species [119]. It performs especially well in bluebunch wheatgrass, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), and Douglas-fir roadside habitats.

Erosion control: Thickspike wheatgrass is well adapted to the stabilization of disturbed soils [119]. Because the plant produces extensive rhizome systems and deep roots and is capable of forming dense stands, thickspike wheatgrass is suitable for erosion control [4,10,14,25,41,61,64]. It can be used to vegetate range sites, mined lands, roadsides, recreation areas, construction sites, and other dry areas subject to erosion [8,19]. It also appears to have good potential for successful revegetation in subalpine environments, such as ski slopes, in Montana [13].

Mine/waste sites: Thickspike wheatgrass has proven useful for mined land revegetation [33,61,125] due to its sod-holding ability and its apparently low nutrient requirements [61,125]. In addition, its abilities to control soil infiltration and to extract water from the soil profile make it good for keeping water out of waste-material zones in underground disposal sites [14]. The plant outperformed all other seeded species in a study of native plant establishment on coal surface-mined lands in Montana [34].

Weed Control: Thickspike wheatgrass's sod-forming ability, which allows it to crowd out weeds and resist brush invasion, makes it especially desirable for long-term weed management [15,25,119]. Studies have reported that thickspike wheatgrass, including its cultivars, is effective at controlling Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens) [15,19] and diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa) [86].

For more specific information regarding recommended rehabilitation practices using thickspike wheatgrass, see [33,43]. 

Triticeae members, including thickspike wheatgrass, are valued for scientific research due to the following traits: extreme morphological variation, varied ecological requirements, wide range in chromosome number, large chromosomes that are well adapted to cytological analysis, and an unusual ability to hybridize with other species [35]. Because of their wide distribution and economic importance, the Triticeae grasses are frequently used in experimental work and are often reported in agronomic and other literature [36].

Grazing response: Thickspike wheatgrass's extensive rhizome system allows established stands to withstand heavy grazing and trampling [61,119]. Since it responds to defoliation by increasing tiller production, it may be more abundant in grazed than in ungrazed areas [75,112,134]. However, under heavy and prolonged grazing, wheatgrasses may decrease or be replaced by other grasses or shrubs [32,83]. A 25-year study of grazing effects on sagebrush-grass range at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in Idaho reported that, while most grass species responded better to stocking during the fall only rather than stocking in both fall and spring, thickspike wheatgrass was severely reduced in both treatments [96]. Six inches (15 cm) of new growth should be allowed in spring before grazing established stands [119]. Delaying grazing until after peak growth in July will maximize yields [133,134]. After grazing, a 2-year rest period is recommended for rangeland dominated by thickspike wheatgrass [83]. Such rangelands should not be grazed until thickspike wheatgrass is firmly established and the plants have headed out. 

Grazing may affect morphological development of thickspike wheatgrass, as indicated by a comparative study of grazed and ungrazed range habitats in the Pryor Mountains, Montana. The following data from the study show significant differences in vegetative shoot height (p<0.05), reproductive shoot height (p<0.05), leaf blade width (p<0.10), and leaf angle (p<0.10) between grazed and ungrazed study areas [45]:

  grazed  ungrazed
vegetative shoot height (mm) 180.4 ± 7.6 218.1 ± 8.6
reproductive shoot height (mm) 325.9 ± 15.3 372.3 ± 17.3
leaf blade length (mm) 154.2 ± 7.4  172.5 ± 7.7
leaf blade width (mm) 3.38 ± 0.17  3.30 ± 0.14
leaf angle (° from vertical) 9.7 ± 1.5 6.5 ± 0.8

Pests/disease: Thickspike wheatgrass is susceptible to damage by the Russian wheat aphid [82] and, according to a Utah study, may be even more susceptible after spring grazing [94]. Grasshoppers may thin thickspike wheatgrass stands [123]. The species is susceptible to leaf and stripe rusts in humid or irrigated areas [61,109]. Seed and seedling diseases are minor [123].

Propagation: It is recommended that thickspike wheatgrass be seeded with a drill at depths of 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) or less on medium- to fine-textured soil and 1 inch (2.5cm) or less on coarse-textured soils. Best results are obtained by seeding in early spring on heavy- to medium-textured soils and in late fall on medium- to light-textured soils. Late summer (August to mid-September) seedings are not recommended without irrigation [119]. The U.S.D.A. [119] and Wasser [123] provide specific seeding instructions.

Results of a study on coal surface-mined lands in Montana indicate that initial establishment of thickspike wheatgrass may be higher with drill seeding than broadcast seeding. Heavier seeding in such areas may result in increased cover [34].

Thickspike wheatgrass is compatible with other species and can be used in seeding mixtures. However, it should not be seeded with strongly competitive species.

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