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Native Plants Scrutinized for Western Ranges / April 11, 2000 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Geneticist Tom Jones examines Utah sweetvetch.

Read: further details in Agricultural Research.

Native Plants Scrutinized for Western Ranges

By Marcia Wood
April 11, 2000

From wide-open grasslands of Montana to sagebrush-covered deserts of Nevada, a hardy native plant called Rimrock Indian ricegrass can help revegetate sites damaged by wildfire, overgrazing, or other problems.

In the four years since USDA scientists first began recommending Rimrock to restore native ecosystems and help hold soil in place, seedgrowers in seven western states--Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming--have produced Rimrock seed for sale.

Ricegrass gets its name from its stalks. When in bloom, they somewhat resemble those of a rice plant. The plump seeds that form on Rimrock stalks make an excellent food for game birds like valley quail or for songbirds such as green-tailed towhee.

What's more, Rimrock retains mature seed longer than many other Indian ricegrasses--even in high winds and heavy rains, according to plant geneticist Thomas A. Jones of the ARS Forage and Range Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah.

Discovering that trait in Rimrock, according to Jones, was ARS' most important contribution to the collaborative research on this plant. Because Rimrock seed has a better chance of staying on the plant until harvest--instead of dropping to the ground--mechanical harvesting of the seed is easier and less expensive. That lowers the cost of producing seed and helps open the door to wider use of Indian ricegrass for rangeland repair.

Rimrock was released jointly by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service at Bridger, Mont., the agricultural experiment stations of Montana and Wyoming, and ARS.

ARS studies of Rimrock and two other rugged native plants--the pink-to-purple flowered Timp Utah sweetvetch and the golden-plumed Sand Hollow squirreltail, are described in the agency's Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the chief research branch of USDA.

Scientific contact: Thomas A. Jones, ARS Forage and Range Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah; phone (435) 797-3082, fax (435) 797-3075, tomjones@cc.usu.edu.

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