downy brome, soft brome, downy chess
Regulated Plant, Not a Montana Listed Noxious Weed
Cheatgrass has the potential to dramatically alter the ecosystems it invades, and it can completely replace native vegetation and change fire regimes. It occurs throughout the United States and Canada, but is most problematic in areas of the western United States where there are lower precipitation levels. Cheatgrass is native to Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. It was first introduced into the United States accidentally in the mid 1800s.
Cheatgrass has small soft hairs that cover the entire plant, reddish to purplish branched clusters of seed heads at maturity and slender extensions or awns on the seeds. Seeds will stick to clothing and fur and are easily transported.
Cheatgrass is very adaptable; it grows on all exposures and all types of topography from desert valley floors to mid-elevations. More recently it has been reported at higher elevations. It invades heavily grazed rangeland, roadsides, waste places, burned areas, and disturbed sites quickly. It can also invade undisturbed sites and will easily out-compete native plants. Cheatgrass thrives in years with abundant rainfall, but can also survive periodic drought. Seeds remain viable for 2-3 years. It has adapted to all soil types except extremely wet or saline alkali soils.
Currently found in the following counties:
Cheatgrass has been found in all counties in Montana.
The highly flammable and densely growing populations of cheatgrass provide ample, fine-textured fuels that increase fire intensity and often decrease the intervals between fires. If fire should strike cheatgrass-infested land, native plant communities can be permanently altered, resulting in erosion and damage to water resources. Today, because of widespread infestations, cheatgrass is a primary contributor to wildfires in the western U.S.
Cheatgrass forage quality is high during early stages of growth (prior to seed development); livestock, deer and antelope graze it in the spring, and it provides forage for livestock, upland birds and wildlife in the fall after it germinates.
Commonly Confused Plants
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Photo Credits (top to bottom): Richard Old, XID Services, Inc., Bugwood.org; Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org: Tom Heutte, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org; Tom Heutte, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org: K. George Beck & James Sebastian, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org; Steve Dewey, Utah State University, Bugwood.org