During my 4 years at Chapman University, I studied many fields of science from biology and chemistry to physics. One of my favorite classes was Ecology, a branch of biology that deals with organisms and how they relate to each other and their physical surroundings. A topic in Ecology that fascinated me was ecological succession, or the observed change in the species structure of an ecological community over the course of time. Working in the J Waddy Bullion gardens, I am able to witness these changes first hand. When the gardens was first landscaped, buffalo grass was planted and allowed to grow with the hope that eventually other native grasses, shrubs, and wildflowers would take over. Over the course of this past year, I have watched in awe as nature took its course.This week’s plant of the week, weeping Canada wildrye is an early successional grower, meaning it is one of the first plants to establish in a newly forming community. In the botanical gardens this past spring, Elymus canadensis established its presence early and could be seen growing in plentiful groupings throughout the entire garden. Its exceptional seedling vigor and quick establishment makes weeping Canada wildrye an excellent candidate for range management plantings, especially in areas that need help with erosion control. This grass is a fair source of food for livestock as it has a high energy value but a low protein value. It is a beneficial grass for wildlife because it provides food, nesting sites, and protective cover from predators and extreme weather.
Weeping Canada wildrye grows best in spring and fall months when the soil is cooler. Its seed head, a thick bristly spike that is almost wheat-like, makes this grass easy to identify, . When if first appears in March, the seed head is a light green and turns yellow to light brown as it matures. “Weeping” describes the way the heads are bowed over and delicately blow in the wind. After the first year of prevalent growth, Elymus canadensis will give way to larger hardier native grasses and wildflowers.
Come take a walk through the gardens this week and discover all the areas weeping Canada wildrye colonized.
Republished with permission of the Goldthwaite Eagle. By Savannah Lane.