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California Native Plant Society

Santa Clara Valley Chapter

Local Perennial Native Grasses

by Sally Casey, April 1999

Full Sun Grasses
Scientific Name Common Name Blooms Comments
Danthonia californica California Wild Oat Grass Apr - June To 40", generally 2½' to 3'
Danthonia californica americana Hairy California Wild Oat Grass Apr - May Shorter than species; hairy sheath
Festuca idahoensis Blue Bunch Grass Apr - June To 40"; generally lower; open panicle
Festuca rubra Red Fescue May - June To 40"; open panicle
Hordeum brachyantherum Meadow Barley Apr - June To 28"; inflorescence a spike
Koeleria macrantha June Grass Apr - June To 24"; inflorescence an interrupted spike
Melica californica Western Melica Mar - June To 52"; generally 3'; dies down in summer
Nessella cernua Nodding Needle Grass Apr - May To 3'; inflorescence more delicate than N. pulchra
Nesella pulchra Purple Needle Grass Mar - June To 40"; generally 2½' to 3'
Poa secunda secunda Pine Bluegrass Feb - May To 40"; generally 24"
Partial Sun - Shade Grasses
Scientific Name Common Name Blooms Comments
Bromus carinatus California Brome Annual - Biennial Mar - July 40" - 48"; open panicle
Elymus californicus California Bottle Brush Grass May - July To 80"; generally 6'
Melica imperfecta Small Flowered Melica Mar - June To 44"; generally 24" - 30"; inflorescence open
Melica torreyana Torrey's Melica Mar - July To 40"; generally lower, spreading; inflorescence strict
Muhlenbergia rigens Deergrass June - Sept Leaves to 2½' to 3'; spiked inflorescence to 5'; dramatic
Shade Grasses
Scientific Name Common Name Blooms Comments
Bromus laevipes Woodland Brome Grass May - July To 3'; generally lower; inflorescence folded hand
Deschampsia elongata Slender Hair Grass May - July Low tuft, inflorescence to 40", generally lower
Festuca californica California Fescue Mar - May 3' +; open panicle
Festuca occidentalis Western Fescue Apr - July To 40"; generally lower; open panicle
Hierochloe occidentalis California Vanilla Grass Jan - May To 36"; generally lower
Melica geyeri Geyer's Onion Grass Mar - July To 80"; generally 4'; bulbous base
Melica subulata Alaska Onion Grass Mar - July To 48"; bulbous base
Trisetum canescens Tall Trisetum May - Aug To 32"
With one exception (Muhlenbergia rigens), all of the above grasses are found between Route 280 and Skyline. Muhlenbergia rigens grows from Monterey County south, in the central valley, the foothills of and in the Sierra Nevada mountains east to Texas and into Mexico.

CULTURE: Plant 4" or gallon can size in late fall just before the rains. Use compost (but no fertilizer) as a mulch. March is the second-best planting time.

SOURCES: Most of the common names and blooming periods are taken from Thomas' Flora of the Santa Cruz Mountains of California; heights are from Munz' A California Flora; modified heights are my local observations.

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