the Native Grasses of California
May 13, 2004
Invasive annual grasses have been
pushing aside native perennials in California for the last 200 years. An
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
scientist, along with university and environmental collaborators, is trying to
reverse the trend and thus improve forage quality while helping the
Plant pathologist Stephen M. Griffith of the ARS
Forage Seed and Cereal Research
Unit, Corvallis, Ore., is studying how revegetation of desirable perennial
grasses affects soil and water quality and whether it supplies quality grazing
Perennial grasses turn green faster, stay green longer and produce more
biomass, making a higher-quality forage for wildlife and livestock than annual
grasses. The perennial grasses also improve biodiversity and other
Only two percent of California's grasslands are covered predominately by
perennial grasses. Griffith is working with
Audubon California to establish
perennials in areas where annual grasses dominate. Early results indicate it
can be difficult at first to establish native grasses, but once they are fully
established, their deep roots may be expected to outcompete the annual grasses.
Ranchers who Griffith works with already appreciate the benefits of the
native grasses. Griffith hopes that showing these benefits will lead to
increased and more predictable demand, encouraging greater seed production and
lower prices. For while turf grass seed sells for as little as 50 cents a
pound, perennial grass seed currently costs as much as $40 a pound.
Griffith's collaborators are looking at which plants, in addition to
grasses, make up a healthy grassland, what kinds of wildlife appear after
native grasses are reintroduced, and what the biomass of grasslands is.
information about this research can be found in the May issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.