FACT SHEET: Squirreltail

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Common Name: Squirreltail
Other Common Names: Bottlebrush Squirreltail
Scientific Name: Sitanion hystrix
Synonyms: Elymus elymoides
Family: Grass Family (Poaceae)
Distribution: western North America
Habitat: desert, foothill, and montane habitats
Habit: perennial bunchgrass
Height: to 1'
Spread: 0.5-1'
Foliage Color: bright green
Leaves: grass leaves, mainly toward the base of the plant
Flower Color: purplish changing to straw-colored
Flower Form: borne in spikes at the ends of the stems
Flowering Season: midspring to late summer depending on elevation

Cultural Requirements: Requires full sun and well-drained soils. Fully cold-hardy. Very drought hardy (i.e., needs no supplemental water after establishment on the Wasatch Front), but responsive to supplemental watering and fertlizer.

Culture: Easily obtained from direct late fall seeding, but does not do well in competition with other bunchgrasses or vigorous perennial herbs. Seeds are slightly dormant at maturity but lose dormancy quickly in dry storage. Fast-growing, and will flower the first year when produced as container stock.

Uses and Notes of Interest: This well-behaved, noninvasive little bunchgrass is very attractive in flower, when the long awns of the flowering spikes are a shining purple. The awns later turn straw color and spread out at right angles to the stems, giving the plant a striking appearance, especially in back light. When ripe, the stem breaks into pieces, and the segments, with awns and seed attached, are dispersed along the ground by wind, somewhat like little tumbleweeds. These pieces with their seeds may be picked up off the ground or stripped from the plants. Light hand-rubbing will free the seeds from the awns and stem segments.