Growing Beardless Wildrye to Restore the Bay’s Shoreline

beardless wildrye
Beardless Wildrye helps stabilize the transition zone along the edge of the Bay.

Beardless Wildrye, Elymus triticoides, (formerly of the genus Leymus), is a beautiful and highly adaptable grass species that historically occupied large swathes of lowlands and floodplains throughout the salt marsh transition zone throughout the Bay Area.  Its range extends from California to Washington, and inland to Montana and West Texas.  It is found in meadow landscapes, from dry to moist soils, often where soils are more saline.  It is a cool-season, perennial grass and is considered to be strongly rhizomatous, or sod-forming.

Save The Bay propagates this species by collecting rhizomes – underground, horizontal stems that produce new plants — from a variety of locations near our project sites. A small percentage of rhizomes, shoots, and roots are carefully dug out of the soil and brought back to the nursery to be divided and grown in individual containers for one season, and finally planted during the winter months to colonize locations formerly occupied by non-native annuals such as mustard, radish, Italian thistle, and fennel.

This grass is part of a suite of species that grow by rhizome in the transition zone.  These sod-forming species form layers of roots below the soil surface, somewhat like threads of fabric that stabilize the soil and prevent invasive species from growing.  Above ground, dense vegetation provides critical habitat for insects, small mammals, and ground nesting birds.  As shoots die back each season, thick layers of thatch form, providing more layers of habitat and preventing other species from entering into the system.  Rushes, sedges, grasses, and broadleaf herbaceous perennials, work together and share site dominance over time. During years of higher precipitation, certain species thrive in more freshwater and during drought seasons, other more salt-tolerant species will dominate the system.    This is a very important function of established transition zones in terms of sea-level rise and increasing hydrological fluctuation.

To learn more about propagating beardless wildrye and other native species that grow along the edge of the Bay, join us at our native plant nurseries the first and second Wednesday of each month from 1-4pm.  Check out our website for more information on how you can get involved.

Happy spring!

— Doug Serrill, Nursery Manager