Blue Wildrye

Credit: 
Percy Folkard, BC FLNR
Scientific name: 

Elymus glaucus Buckl. ssp. glaucus

Type: 
Native Grass
Annual precip. min (mm): 
400
Annual precip. max (mm): 
1,500
Seed size: 
Large
Seeds per kg: 
219,000
PR Suitability note: 
Blue wildrye is found in native plant communities in the Peace Region.
Key considerations: 
Blue wildrye may be considered in site rehabilitation mixes where there is native plant community objectives. There is considerable variability in this species, and cultivars have been developed. Where there is a native plant community objective, and a desire to maintain a high level of ecological integrity, seed from local ecotypes or wild populations may be preferred.
General Description: 

Blue wildrye, also known as smooth wildrye, is a bluish-green, tall, tufted, native cool season perennial grass. The root system is fibrous and may have short rhizomes. The plant forms small tufts of a few stems between 50 to 150 cm (20 to 59 in.) tall. The stems have a waxy covering that contribute to the plant’s bluish-green colour and name.

The leaves are flat and wide (5 to 15 mm), tapering to the tip. Leaf blades are roughened, above and below. The nodes are exposed, often with dense short hairs. Seeds occur on dense bearded spikes usually 5 to 15 cm (2 to 6 in.) long, that turn purplish as they ripen.

There are two recognized subspecies in British Columbia - subspecies glaucus has awns greater than 5 mm while subspecies virescens has awnless lemmas, or awns less than 5 mm. The seeds of blue wildrye were used as a food source by the Coast Salish peoples.

Origin: 
Blue wildrye is native to British Columbia.
Distribution: 
Blue wildrye is common throughout southern British Columbia and less frequent in the north. This grass occurs in dry forests of the Ponderosa Pine and Interior Douglas-fir zones, and moist forests in the Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir, Montane Spruce, Sub-Boreal Spruce, Sub-Boreal-Pine Spruce, and Interior Cedar-Hemlock zones. Blue wildrye can also be found at high elevations in the Alpine Tundra and Spruce-Willow-Birch zones.
Habitat and climate: 
Blue wildrye is widely distributed on moist to dry slopes, forests, and meadows from lowland to alpine zones.
Uses: 
Native revegetation of disturbed or burned areas, erosion control for steep slopes. Wildlife habitat for mammals and birds.
Recovery after use (rating): 
L
Recovery after use: 
Does not tolerate heavy grazing. Close grazing in spring eliminates a stand of blue wildrye within 3 to 5 years.
Forage yield (rating): 
L
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
Most palatable to wildlife and livestock in the early part of the season. Forage value declines with maturity. This grass is not readily eaten after the seed heads are formed.
Longevity (rating): 
L
Longevity: 
Blue wildrye is considered short lived (i.e., 3-8 years).
Persistence (rating): 
M
Persistence: 
Although short lived, blue wildrye is able to persist in plant communities with self-seeding.
Invasiveness (rating): 
L
Competitiveness (rating): 
H
Competitiveness: 
Considered highly competitive as it has high seedling vigour, establishes rapidly, and has good ground protection. It is also a good seed producer and reseeds readily.
Erosion control (rating): 
M
Erosion control: 
A pioneer species with hardy fibrous root system has value in erosion control especially on steep sites with coarse soils.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
M
Drought tolerance: 
Varies with ecotype. Some are adapted to dry grassland sites.
Winter hardiness (rating): 
M
Winter hardiness: 
Variable with ecotype.
Soil texture preference (rating): 
A
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
L
Flooding tolerance: 
Low flooding tolerance, but will tolerate somewhat poorly drained soils.
Salinity tolerance (rating): 
L
Acidity tolerance (rating): 
M
Acidity tolerance : 
Prefers moderately acidic to neutral soils, pH levels of 5.8 to 8.5.
Shade tolerance: 
Moderate
Ease of establishment (rating): 
H
Application requirements: 
Cultivars and selected varieties have been developed. The genetic source should be identified before application. There is wide variation in this species, and outcrossing with local populations is possible.
Suggested mixtures: 
Should be included in a mixture for revegetation seedings.