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Streambank Wheatgrass (Agropyron riparian)

Streambank wheatgrass is native to the northwestern United States and adjacent Canada. Streambank wheatgrass is a long-lived perennial that is very drought tolerant. It is a sod former that has deep roots and very strong rhizomes that enable the grass to spread rapidly to form a good ground cover

Despite its name, it is not restricted to riparian sites, but has good drought tolerance. It is especially suitable for use in soil and water conservation work. Its dense, low-growing sod is resistant to erosion. The top growth is relatively short and fine-leaved, and requires a minimum of maintenance.

Streambank wheatgrass is used wherever a rapid-establishing, drought-tolerant ground cover is required, such as borrow pits, spoil banks, roadsides, pond and irrigation banks and airport surfaces. The seed germinates quickly and seedlings grow rapidly. The strong rhizomes spread rapidly to give complete erosion control in a short time, but it is not weedy like reed canary grass in irrigation ditches or quackgrass in crop fields.

Streambank wheatgrass makes a permanent lawn for homes and playgrounds, and, when established, requires infrequent watering and minimum maintenance. It can also be used for parking areas and in machinery yards.

Some of the more available native species include:

  • Green Neddle Grass: A cool-season, long-lived bunchgrass with good production. It is well adapted to a wide range of soil textures but is more abundant on heavier or clayey soils with annual precipitation of 11" or more. It is highly palatable and works well in a mix with western wheatgrass. Recommended cultivar: Lodorm.

  • Western Wheatgrass or ?Bluejoint?: A cool-season, long-lived sod-former. It is adapted to a variety of soil types but prefers heavier textures with annual precipitation of 10" or more, or run-in or overflow sites. It is palatable, very drought tolerant and recovers well under grazing pressure. Having a rhizomatic nature, it provides good ground cover for erosion control and is moderately salt tolerant. Recommended cultivars: Rosana, Barton, Rodan, Arriba, Flintlock, Walsh.

  • Thick Spike Wheatgrass: A cool-season, long-lived, strongly rhizomatic native. It closely resembles western wheatgrass but is greener and more drought tolerant. Excellent seedling vigor promotes easy establishment. It is adapted to light-medium textured soils, slightly acid to moderately saline with annual precipitation of 10" or more. It provides excellent erosion control and has been shown to work very well in waterways. Recommended cultivars? Critana, Elbee.

  • Slender Wheatgrass: A cool-season, short-lived bunchgrass. It is adapted to medium-light textured soils on a variety of sites. It is very easily established and although short-lived, provides quick cover when included in mixtures other longer-lived native species. It has a high tolerance to saline-alkaline soils, is palatable and nutritious, and provides good winter forage as well. Recommended cultivars: Pryor, Revenue, San Luis.

  • Streambank Wheatgrass: A cool-season, long-lived native sod-former. Although the name suggests that it has high moisture requirements, it is more drought tolerant than thick spike wheatgrass. Seeds germinate slower than thick spike wheatgrass, but establish quickly, even in low rainfall areas (10 "- 14" precipitation zones). It is adapted to a variety for soil textures, prefers medium to fine textured soils and is moderately salt tolerant. Its low-growing habit provides low-maintenance ground cover, ideal for use on small-plane grass landing fields at airports as well as ground cover for erosion control. Recommended cultivar: Sodar.

  • Bluebunch Wheatgrass: A cool-season, long-lived bunchgrass. It is adapted to a wide range of soils and is highly drought resistant. Although found throughout Montana, it is of greatest importance in the foothill and mountain areas and on medium-course textured soils with greater than 10" of precipitation. It works well with western or thick spike wheatgrass, mixed with slender wheatgrass and green needle grass. The forage is palatable and it produces well. Seed is often not readily available. Beardless wheatgrass, an important bunchgrass in western Montana, is very similar to bluebunch except that it lacks awns. Recommended cultivars: Secar, bluebunch wheatgrass, Whitmar, beardless wheatgrass.

  • Prairie Sandreed: A warm-season, long-lived, vigorous sod-former, adapted to sandy soils. It is slow to establish but once established very drought-tolerant, and adapted to areas with less than 10" - 20" of annual precipitation. It is a good producer, is very palatable and provides excellent soil stabilization on sandy soils in a mix with Indian rice grass, thick spike wheatgrass and slender wheatgrass. Recommended cultivar: Goshen.

  • Indian Rice Grass: A warm-season, long-lived bunchgrass, adapted to sandy soils, sand dunes, exposed ridges and other sandy disturbed sites. Its forage is palatable, it cures well, providing forage on winter pastures, however, plants are slow to establish. Pure stands are difficult to establish, therefore a mix is recommended (see prairie sandreed). Birds like the seeds. Recommended cultivar: Nezpar.

  • Lewis Flax: A native perennial forb that can be added as a minor component to range seeding mixtures to add diversity. It is very palatable to livestock and wildlife and is a prolific seed producer. The blue flowers that bloom all summer are aesthetically pleasing and the seeds are relished by upland game birds. Recommended cultivar: Appar.

  • Fourwing Salt Brush: A warm-season, long-lived perennial shrub, often slow to establish, that should be seeded in a mix with other native grasses. It is adapted to a variety of soil textures from clay to sand and it is moderately salt tolerant. It is very palatable and provides excellent winter forage (15% protein) for livestock and game. Recommended cultivar: Wytana.