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Cheatgrass, Downy Brome (Bromus tectorum)

Cheatgrass

Bromus tectorum L.

(Order Cyperales, Family Poaceae)

Cheatgrass (Minden Dice, 2012)

Diagnosis

Culms: Erect, Slender, solitary or tufted, glabrous

Blades: Flat, ½ to 7 inches long, less than ¼ inch wide, soft-hairy

Sheaths: Rough, flattened toward collar, soft-hairy

Ligules: Membranous, jagged-toothed

Inflorescences: Panicles, open, 2 to 8 inches long, much-branched, drooping, somewhat one sided, often purplish at maturity

Spikelets: Slender-stalked, 4 to 8 flowered, ½ to ¾ inch long, glumes unequal, soft-hairy; lemmas to ½ inch long, downy, awns ½ to ¾ inch long

Habitat: Dry, disturbed sites, roadsides, and waste areas

Distribution: Throughout Kansas

Origin: Introduced from Europe

Forage Value: Cheatgrass offers a fairly good forage value prior to inflorescence emergence but has practically no value after that time. Songbirds and turkeys consume the seeds.

Comments: An aggressive, cool season weed. The awns can injure the eyes and mouths of grazing livestock and contaminate fleece. Also know by the name Downy brome, downy bromegrass, downy chess, early chess, slender chess, drooping chess, junegrass, and bronco-grass. Cheatgrass is native to the Mediterranean region. In Europe, its original habitat was the decaying straw of thatched roofs.

Cheatgrass (Minden Dice, 2012)

Uses

Deer and elk make use of cheatgrass in late winter to early spring while it is still green and prior to other grasses and forbs beginning growth. Cheatgrass is important as food, cover and nesting habitat for Hungarian Partridge and Chukar. Canada geese heavily graze cheatgrass in fall, winter, and early spring. Cheatgrass is not useful in erosion control because it is a winter annual with a shallow root system. Livestock find Cheatgrass to provide good quality forage early in the season, before plants mature. Once matured, their sharp-tipped seeds and barbed awns work their way into the eyes, nostrils, mouths and intestines of animals.

Classification

Cheatgrass is classified as an invasive or noxious weed.

Invasive or noxious traits

Cheatgrass was introduced to the United States in packing materials, ship ballast, and likely as a contaminant of crop seed. It was first found in the late 1800's in the US near Denver, CO. After this, it spread explosively over rangelands. By the 1930's, Cheatgrass was becoming the dominant grass over vast areas of the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West regions. Now, Cheatgrass is estimated to infest more than 101 million acres in western states. Because it is highly flamable in late spring and early fall, cheatgrasss has the ability to alter timing and occurance of range and forest fires.

Aldo Leopold, in his 1949 essay "Cheat Takes Over" addresses the negative impacts of Cheatgrass, which include:

  • replacement of rich and useful native bunchgrasses and wheatgrasses with the inferior cheat
  • prickly awns that, when mature, cause cheat-sores n the mouths of cows and sheep
  • extreme flammability of cheat covered lands that results in burn-back of winter forage   and destruction of winter cover for wildlife
  • degradateion of hay following invasion of alfalfa fields
  • blockading of newly-hatched ducklinghs from making the vital trek from upland nest to lowland water

Distribution

As one of the most widespread introduced grasses in North America, Cheatgrass occurs in all 50 states, as well as most of the Canadian provinces and also in Mexico

Control

Tillage and chemicals are common methods of control. Environmental practices which minimize the further spread of Cheatgrass are suggested for use. These practices include cleaning vehicles, clothing, camp gear, and pets of adhering seeds after contact, and avoiding excessive roadside and rangeland disturbance.  Mowing fields before seeds can form can assist in control.  In cropland and hayland, the best control is often fallowing or planting continuous spring crops for two or more years. A biological approach to control of Cheatgrass may involve soil bacteria which causes crown rot in the grass. Herbicides are available but care must be taken with their use.

Links

USDA Plants Profile http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_brte.pdf

References

Skinner, Mark. "Bromus tectorum Fact Sheet." USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. US Department of Agriculture. 01 Oct 2008.

"Cheatgrass." Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses. K-State Libraries. 7 Sept 2007. http://kswildflower.org/grass_details.php?grassID=22

"Bromus tectorum Plants Profile." USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. US Department of Agriculture. 01 Feb 2012

BONAP North America Plant Atlas. 2011. Photograph.Floristic Synthesis of NAWeb.

Submitted By: Minden Dice, July 2012

Wichita State University
Generated on 2011. This website is continuously updated.
Comments can be sent to Mary Liz Jameson.
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