(Willd. ex Kunth) Lag. ex Griffiths
Blue grama accounts for most of the net primary productivity in the shortgrass prairie of the central and southern Great Plains. It is a green or greyish, low-growing, drought-tolerant grass with limited maintenance.
Blue grama has green to greyish leaves less than 3 mm (0.1 in) wide and 1 to 10 in (25 to 250 mm) long. The overall height of the plant is 6 to 12 in (15 to 30 cm) at maturity.
The flowering stems (culms) are 7 to 18 in (18 to 46 cm) long. Typically, two comb-like spikes, each with 20 to 90 spikelets, extend out at a sharp angle from the flowering stem. Each spikelet is 5 to 6 mm (0.20 to 0.24 in) long. The one fertile floret has a lemma (bract) 5 to 5.5 mm (0.20 to 0.22 in) long, with three short awns (bristles) at the tip, and one reduced sterile floret about 2 mm (0.08 in) long with three awns about 5 mm (0.2 in) long.
Blue grama is readily established from seed, but depends more on vegetative reproduction via tillers. Seed production is slow, and depends on soil moisture and temperature. Seeds dispersed by wind only reach a few meters (6 ft); farther distances are reached with insects, birds, and mammals as dispersal agents. Seedling establishment, survival, and growth are greatest when isolated from neighboring adult plants, which effectively exploit water in the seedling's root zone. Successful establishment requires a modest amount of soil moisture during the extension and development of adventitious roots.
Established plants are grazing-, cold-, and drought-tolerant, though prolonged drought leads to a reduction in root number and extent. They employ an opportunistic water-use strategy, rapidly using water when available, and becoming dormant during less-favorable conditions. In terms of successional status, blue grama is a late seral to climax species. Recovery following disturbance is slow and depends on the type and extent of the disturbance.
Horticulture and agriculture
Blue grama is valued as forage.
B. gracilis is grown by the horticulture industry, and used in perennial gardens, naturalistic and native plant landscaping, habitat restoration projects, and residential, civic, and highway erosion control. Blue grama flowers are also used in dried flower arrangements.
- "Bouteloua gracilis". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA.
- "Blue Grama - Animal & Range Sciences". Montana University.
- Chadwick, Amy C. (2003). "Bouteloua curtipendula". U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
- "Bouteloua gracilis". Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden – via eFloras.org.
- "Bouteloua". Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden – via eFloras.org.
- Stevenson, Matilda Coxe 1915 Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #30 (p. 83)
- Anderson, M.D. 2003. U.S.D.A. Fire Effects Information System: Bouteloua gracilis - Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
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