Elmer Stipa

Leonard is a grass person. Except for the very obvious grasses, I cannot tell them apart. However, since he patiently searches out wildflowers with me, I need to post a grass specimen occasionally.

Earlier this month while hiking the Quarry Trail at Ash Creek Wildlife Area near Adin CA (Modoc County), we came across the fairly uncommon (for our area) elmer stipa (Stipa elmeri). This tufted perennial is well adapted to the droughty soils found in the dry hills, sandy plains and dry, open woods of Washington, Idaho, Oregon, California and Nevada, east of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.

The classification of this plant is in flux with the genus switching between Stipa and Achnaltherum. Elmer stipa is also closely related to western needlegrass (Stipa occidentalis). This close relationship is why elmer stipa is also often designated as Stipa (or Achnaltherum) occidentalis ssp pubescens. Confusing? I thought so!

Elmer stipa, like many other stipas, has sheaths (part of leaf surrounding the stem) and blades (laterally expanded portion of leaf) with dense, short hairs (pubescence). The awns (bristle-like appendages) are twisted below and are bent (geniculate) twice.  A distinguishing characteristic of elmer stipa is the dense hairiness of the lower two awn segments. The sharp-pointed seeds are augured into the soil by the twisting and untwisting of the awns.

A strong root system makes elmer stipa valuable in erosion control. This grass also greens up early in the spring providing early forage for grazing animals.

Pubescent western needlegrass in another common name for S elmeri.

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