Agropyron cristatum (Crested Wheatgrass)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Agropyron
Family:Poaceae (Grass)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:Europe, Asia
Status:
  • Weedy
Habitat:sun; moist to dry disturbed soil; roadsides, fields, prairies, gravel pits, waste places
Fruiting season:July - August
Plant height:8 to 40 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Cluster type: panicle Cluster type: spike

[photo of flowering panicle] Spike-like cluster at the top of the stem, 1 to 4 inches long, the spikelets (flower clusters) ascending to spreading, alternately arranged on opposite sides of the stalk (2-ranked) and mostly evenly spaced like the teeth of a comb, though the upper spikelets may be more crowded and occasionally spikelets are more irregularly arranged. Spikelets are stalkless or nearly so, light green at flowering time, 7 to 16 mm (to ~2/3 inch) long, flattened, lance-elliptic in outline and have 3 to 6 florets; the floret at the tip may be sterile. The spike stalk (rachis) is often covered in long, appressed hairs.

[close-up of spikelet] At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes), both 3 to 6 mm long including a 1 to 3-mm awn, 3-veined, strongly keeled, sometimes with a few long, spreading hairs on the keel, the upper glume usually slightly longer than the lower glume and both shorter than the spikelet. Florets are surrounded by a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma 5-veined, 5 to 9 mm long including a 1 to 6-mm awn, sometimes with a few long, spreading hairs along the keel; the palea is about as long as the lemma (excluding the awn), 2-veined with a few teeth along the veins.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of sheath, ligule and node] Leaves are alternate, 2 to 5 inches long, 1.5 to 6 mm (to ¼ inch) wide, stiff, flat or rolled in along the edges (involute), hairless to variously hairy. Sheaths are mostly hairless. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is about 1 mm long and not fringed with hairs. Nodes are smooth. Stems are hairless, erect or sometimes spreading from the base and rising at a lower node (geniculate). Plants are clump-forming but can form dense stands.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed without plume

[photo of mature florets] Spikelets are light brown at maturity, the florets shedding individually as each grain matures, leaving the glumes behind on the stalk. Grains (seeds) are oblong and hairy at the tip.

Notes:

Crested Wheatgrass, a cool-season grass native to Asia and eastern Europe, was introduced to North America sometime around the turn of the 20th century. It's considered invasive in Canadian grasslands but is widely planted in the the western US, particularly in Great Basin that covers nearly all Nevada and portions of its surrounding states. A fact sheet from Utah State University hails its desirable qualities: resilience under grazing pressure, cold and drought tolerant, effective erosion control, easy to establish and successfully competes against exotic weeds (skimming over the fact that the species is also exotic). It also notes that it can form monocultures that crowd out native plants, even shrubs, but seems to brush this off as not important, which is a stance taken from an agricultural perspective, not an ecological one. The Canadians recognize that it invades native prairie and reduces diversity. It is not (yet) particularly prolific in Minnesota but it is reasonable to expect it can become so. Best to eradicate it before that happens.

Crested Wheatgrass is relatively easy to recognized by its very short ligule, strongly 2-ranked spikes up to 4 inches long, spikelets usually evenly spaced like the teeth of a comb, the rachis (spike stalk) usually with long appressed hairs, 3 to 6-flowered spikelets, glumes and lemmas both usually awned, the glumes and/or lemma keels sometimes with a few long spreading hairs. It is clump-forming but can also form dense stands. The spikes are proportionately broader and usually shorter than other species with 2-ranked spikes, such as Quackgrass (Elymus repens).

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More photos

Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Wadena County and in North Dakota.

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