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SPECIES:  Leymus innovatus
Downy ryegrass. Image by Hitchcock, A.S. (rev. A. Chase). 1950. Manual of the grasses of the United States. USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 200. Washington, DC., hosted by USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Williams, T. Y. 1990. Leymus innovatus. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 11 October 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: boreal wildrye to: downy ryegrass. Images were also added.
ABBREVIATION: LEYINN SYNONYMS: Elymus brownii Scribn. & J.G. Sm. Elymus Beal innovatus Elymus innovatus Beal var. glabratus Bowden Elymus innovatus Beal var. innovatus Elymus innovatus Beal var. velutinus Bowden Leymus velutinus (Bowden) A. Love & D. Love [13] NRCS PLANT CODE: ELIN4 COMMON NAMES: downy ryegrass boreal wildrye fuzzyspike wildrye hairy wildrye hairy wild rye lyme grass northern wildrye TAXONOMY: The the scientific name of downy ryegrass is Leymus innovatus (Beal) Pilg. (Poaceae) [1]. LIFE FORM: Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: Downy ryegrass is considered rare in northwestern Montana. It is known to occur only along the Belly River, 3 miles south of the Canadian border in Glacier National Park. This is the southern edge of its range [27].


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Downy ryegrass is distributed from Alaska, south to British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. It is found in the upper Great Plains, northern Rockies, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and throughout Canada [12].
Distribution of downy ryegrass. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, October 11] [30].

   FRES19  Aspen - birch
   FRES23  Fir - spruce
   FRES26  Lodgepole pine

     AK  MT  WY  SD  ND  AB  BC  SK

    8  Northern Rocky Mountains
    9  Middle Rocky Mountains
   16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

   K008  Lodgepole pine - subalpine forest
   K015  Western spruce - fir forest
   K107  Northern hardwoods - fir forest

    16  Aspen
    18  Paper birch
   201  White spruce
   206  Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
   218  Lodgepole pine
   251  White spruce - aspen

Downy ryegrass is a common understory dominant in lodgepole pine (Pinus
contorta) forests.  It is commonly reported in Alberta, Canada.
Published classification schemes listing downy ryegrass as a dominant
part of the vegetation are presented below.

Field guide to forest ecosystems of west-central Alberta [7]
The Pinus contorta forests of Banff and Jasper National Parks: a study
   in comparative synecology and syntaxonomy [15]
The vegetation of Alberta [20]


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: On ranges where it is a dominant species, downy ryegrass may be grazed extensively by Stone sheep, elk, and bison [5,25]. Overall, it is rated as poor to fair forage for wildlife and livestock [9]. Downy ryegrass was found to be an important part of the diet of feral horses in Alberta, presumably due to its abundance rather than its palatability. It was especially important during the winter when other species were not available [28]. Morgantini and Hudson [18] reported that elk consumption of downy ryegrass in Alberta rose from 1 percent to 15 to 18 percent during hunting season, as use of the surrounding aspen (Populus tremuloides) forest increased. PALATABILITY: Studies analyzing the percent composition of downy ryegrass in the diets of elk and bison indicate that it is not a very palatable species. One report found that, although downy ryegrass was a major component of the vegetation and occurred at 33.3 to 81.8 percent frequency in the diet, it made up only 0.2 to 1.1 percent composition of the diet in bison [5]. Similarly, another study found that while grass made up 70.6 percent of elk diet on intermediate season ranges, downy ryegrass accounted for only 3.6 to 7.8 percent composition in the diet [19]. In both cases, downy ryegrass was abundant on the ranges. It was eaten frequently but only in small amounts. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: The nutritive value of downy ryegrass is rated as moderate to low. Percent digestible protein ranged from 0.5 in the weathered stage to 5.8 in the leaf stage. On a nutritive value index with clipped, dried alfalfa (Medicago sativa) receiving a score of 100, downy ryegrass had a mean score of 39.5. Other grasses in the study rated mean scores from 16.3 to 58.3 [3]. COVER VALUE: On ranges where it forms continuous stands, downy ryegrass may provide cover for some birds and small mammals. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Downy ryegrass was a frequent species on several abandoned coal mine sites in Canada, indicating that it may have good potential for revegetation at high elevations [24]. Rhizomatous wildrye grasses are good soil binders [12]. It can provide erosion control without inhibiting the growth of other forbs and shrubs [8]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Downy ryegrass is rare in Glacier National Park but apparently is not currently threatened [27]. At its periphery, a species may be valuable as an indicator of habitat changes, such as climatic shifts. For example, if global warming were to take place, a boreal species may retreat north.


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Downy ryegrass is a perennial, native, cool-season grass. It is rhizomatous but tends to form clumps. It is slightly pubescent below the nodes and inflorescence. The culms are mostly 16 to 32 inches (40-80 cm) tall [12]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Hemicryptophyte Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Downy ryegrass will reproduce either sexually or asexually via rhizomes. La Roi and Hnatiuk [15] report that it reproduces asexually in low light. Pollination and seed dispersal may aided by wind and gravity, as well as by some animals. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Downy ryegrass grows in sandy meadows, along streambanks, on rocky hillsides, and commonly in open lodgepole pine or spruce (Picea spp.) forests. It grows in soils that have been described as dry to moist, fresh (slightly moist) to moderately moist, droughty, and rapidly to well drained [6,7,9]. It has commonly been reported from upper montane mesic to submesic sites [7,15]. It has been reported at the following elevations: State elev. (ft) elev. (m) reference AK 540 - 1,440 180 - 480 [5] BC 3,000 - 5,040 1000 - 1680 [4,26] AB 3,750 - 5,700 1250 - 1900 [7,15,19,21] MT 4,140 - 4,600 1380 - 1530 [9] Downy ryegrass is most commonly found in lodgepole pine forests. Other common associates include russet buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis), bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis), rough fescue (Festuca scabrella), jack pine (Pinus banksiana), and white spruce (Picea glauca). It is frequently competitive with bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and twinflower (Linnaea borealis) [3,4,5,6,7,15,21]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Downy ryegrass is a midseral species, since it is more likely to be growing in areas that have been previously burned or disturbed than areas that have not [25,26]. It is often found on previously burned sites [7,15,25,26] and has been reported on sites 4 to 100 years after a fire [5,21]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Downy ryegrass begins to green in March and April in Alberta [28]. It flowers in June and July [12] and has been reported to remain in flower until early September in Montana [27].


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Downy ryegrass has underground rhizomes, which may survive fire. It may sprout from these rhizomes, taking advantage of sites that have been opened by the fire [25]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil Tussock graminoid 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".


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: The entire aboveground portion of downy ryegrass is consumed in most fires. Belowground rhizomes may escape harm, especially during fast-spreading fires in light surface fuels where little heat is projected downward into the soil. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Downy ryegrass reproduces asexually following a fire by sprouting from its rhizomes. It is reportedly common in postfire stands ranging from 4 to 100 years [5,21,25,26]. Apparently, it is able to spread by rhizomes following a fire and remain dominant for a long time. In one case downy ryegrass made up 48 percent of the understory composition in a burned subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) forest. It made up only 10 percent composition in an unburned subalpine clearing [25]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Downy ryegrass populations do not seem to be seriously injured by fire. In fact, fire is probably beneficial to the species. However, increases of downy ryegrass may not be desirable as this grass is not very palatable or nutritious for wildlife and livestock [3,5,19].


SPECIES: Leymus innovatus
REFERENCES: 1. Barkworth, Mary E.; Dewey, Douglas R. 1985. Genomically based genera in the perennial Triticeae of North America: identification and membership. American Journal of Botany. 72(5): 767-776. [393] 2. Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p. [434] 3. Bezeau, L. M.; Johnston, A. 1962. In vitro digestibility of range forage plants of the Festuca scabrella association. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 42: 692-697. [441] 4. Brink, V. C.; Luckhurst, A.; Morrison, D. 1972. Productivity estimates from alpine tundra in British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 52: 321-323. [11491] 5. Campbell, Bruce H.; Hinkes, Mike. 1983. Winter diets and habitat use of Alaska bison after wildfire. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 11(1): 16-21. [8389] 6. Chrosciewicz, Z. 1978. Slash and duff reduction by burning on clear-cut jack pine sites in central Saskatchewan. Information Report NOR-X-200. Edmonton, AB: Forestry Service, Fisheries and Environment Canada, Northern Forest Research Centre. 12 p. [7288] 7. Corns, I. G. W.; Annas, R. M. 1986. Field guide to forest ecosystems of west-central Alberta. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Forestry Service, Northern Forestry Centre. 251 p. [8998] 8. Densmore, R. V.; Holmes, K. W. 1987. Assisted revegetation in Denali National Park, Alaska, U.S.A. Arctic and Alpine Research. 19(4): 544-548. [6078] 9. Dittberner, Phillip L.; Olson, Michael R. 1983. The plant information network (PIN) data base: Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. FWS/OBS-83/86. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 786 p. [806] 10. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 11. Garrison, George A.; Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Duncan, Don A.; [and others]. 1977. Vegetation and environmental features of forest and range ecosystems. Agric. Handb. 475. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. [998] 12. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur; Ownbey, Marion. 1969. Vascular plants of the Pacific Northwest. Part 1: Vascular cryptograms, gymnosperms, and monocotyledons. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 914 p. [1169] 13. Kartesz, John T.; Kartesz, Rosemarie. 1980. A synonymized checklist of the vascular flora of the United States, Canada, and Greenland. Volume II: The biota of North America. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press; in confederation with Anne H. Lindsey and C. Richie Bell, North Carolina Botanical Garden. 500 p. [6954] 14. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 15. La Roi, George H.; Hnatiuk, Roger J. 1980. The Pinus contorta forests of Banff and Jasper National Parks: a study in comparative synecology and syntaxonomy. Ecological Monographs. 50(1): 1-29. [8347] 17. Lyon, L. Jack; Stickney, Peter F. 1976. Early vegetal succession following large northern Rocky Mountain wildfires. In: Proceedings, Tall Timbers fire ecology conference and Intermountain Fire Research Council fire and land management symposium; 1974 October 8-10; Missoula, MT. No. 14. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 355-373. [1496] 18. Morgantini, Luigi E.; Hudson, Robert J. 1985. Changes in diets of wapiti during a hunting season. Journal of Range Management. 38(1): 77-79. [11492] 19. Morgantini, Luigi E.; Hudson, Robert J. 1989. Nutritional significance of wapiti (Cervus elaphus) migrations to alpine ranges in western Alberta, Canada. Arctic and Alpine Research. 21(3): 288-295. [9669] 20. Moss, E. H. 1955. The vegetation of Alberta. Botanical Review. 21(9): 493-567. [6878] 21. Prescott, C.E.; Corbin,J.P.; Parkinson, D. 1989. Biomass, productivity, and nutrient-use efficiency of aboveground vegetation in four rocky mountain coniferous forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 19: 309-317. [6691] 22. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 24. Russell, W. B. 1985. Vascular flora of abandoned coal-mined land, Rocky Mountain Foothills, Alberta. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 99(4): 503-516. [10461] 25. Seip, Dale R.; Bunnell, Fred L. 1985. Species composition and herbage production of mountain rangelands in northern British Columbia. Canadian Journal of Botany. 63: 2077-2080. [2104] 26. Seip, D. R.; Bunnell, F. L. 1985. Nutrition of Stone's sheep on burned and unburned ranges. Journal of Wildlife Management. 49(2): 397-405. [4550] 27. Lesica, Peter. 1984. Rare vascular plants of Glacier National Park, Montana. Missoula, MT: University of Montana, Department of Botany. 27 p. [12049] 28. Salter, R. E.; Hudson, R. J. 1979. Feeding ecology of feral horses in western Alberta. Journal of Range Management. 32(3): 221-225. [11490] 29. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p. [20090] 30. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2018. PLANTS Database, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (Producer). Available: [34262]

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