State Grasses – Colorado and New Mexico

Blue Grama Grass

Blue Grama Grass

The official state grass of both Colorado and New Mexico is Blue Grama Grass.  It is very drought tolerant, and is native to much of the mid-section of North America, roughly from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains.  It is  commonly used in ornamental landscaping, and sometimes even in flower arrangements.  As with many prairie natives, what it lacks in height above ground, it more than makes up for below ground:  Although BGG can grow up to two feet high in wetter climate zones, in drier regions, such as Colorado and New Mexico, typical heights of BGG are around 8 or 9 inches, but root depth can be from 3 to 6 feet!

Warning – Skip this next part if you don’t like lame jokes:  Take the length of the whole plant, and you could have the height of a legitimate NBA player.  No information exists on the ability of blue grama grass to either post up, or shoot from the perimeter.

I did warn you.



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State Grasses – Nebraska and Kansas

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

The official state grass of both Nebraska and Kansas is Little Bluestem.  Also known as “bunch grass” (because it grows in bunches) and “beard grass” (because of its feathery appearance).  It can be found in most of North America, but is most common in the tallgrass and mixed grass prairies of the central U.S. and Canada.

It’s quite pretty and is now often cultivated to use as an ornamental for landscaping.  The Lakota Indians used dried stems and leaves for lining moccasins and other insulation needs.

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State Grasses – The Dakotas and Wyoming

Western Wheatgrass

Western Wheatgrass

The official state grass of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming is western wheatgrass.  It’s a prairie native, and I particularly like the statement from the North Dakota official state website

tough native prairie grass, once covered nearly all of the state.”

Wow!  It’s hard to believe, but that statement is probably fairly true.  There are pockets of forest here and there in North Dakota, and, of course, there were certainly other species of grasses, but I’m guessing western wheatgrass was predominant, covering the Dakotas, and eastern Wyoming like a shag carpet for countless millennia.

Shag carpet has negative connotations these days, I presume, but I don’t mean it in a negative way at all.  There is nothing more inspiring to me than a long view in the Dakotas, with buttes and hills rising in the unreachable horizon.

It’s bare earth, covered by a carpet, if you will, but there are no walls, no ceiling, and no straight lines to diminish the beauty – The Great Plains at its finest!

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State Grasses – Montana

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

Bluebunch Wheatgrass

All 50 states have a whole grocery list of official state somethings – state flowers, state trees, state birds, etc.  Not all of the states, however, have official state grasses.  This is disappointing, but not unexpected.  It’s the usual slight delivered to grasses in general, despite the fact that grasses exist not only in all 50 sates, obviously, but also exist in every known climate zone on land (plus a few in the ocean) except extreme polar-type climates.  There is not a single tree in Antarctica, but there are some hearty species of grasses in the warmer coastal places.  Apart from the Sun, and the Earth itself, grasses are probably the most important things in terms of food production.  Grasses give us most of our food, either directly (rice, corn, etc), or indirectly (feed for livestock).  As you might’ve guessed by now, I’m a grass-man, and I’m not ashamed of it.  ;-)

Anyway, some states, including most of the Great Plains states, with one notable exception which I’ll get to in a later blog, have adopted a state grass.  As is my usual route, I will start in the north and work my way south through the Great Plains States, starting with Montana.

Montana’s State GrassBluebunch Wheatgrass a.k.a. Pseudoroegneria Spicata

This is a wide ranging grass found throughout much of western North America, and it also happens to be the state grass of Washington and Iowa.  It grows taller in wetter climates and can be quite stubby in drier ones.  It adapts well to lots of climates and as a result can be found from Alaska all the way to Texas, so if you live somewhere in its habitat, get out there and hug some bluebunch wheatgrass today!

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Restoring Ancestral Lands

Fort Belknap, Montana

From the Good News Department:  A recent article in the New York Times by Nate Schweber points to a small, but possibly growing movement on Native American ancestral lands to help restore prairie habitat.  Native lands are in a particularly good position to be able to succeed in this endeavor because the percentage of unplowed land on tribal land is greater than that of other private lands.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign, however, beyond the success they’ve had in protecting habitat and wildlife, is that a new generation is starting to take charge.  Native American men and women in their 20s and 30s are taking an interest in protecting and restoring their ancestral lands, and that can only be good for the incredible place we call the Great Plains!

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Books – A Pronghorn Year

bindata.phpThe pronghorn is the fastest land animal in North America, and the second fastest in the world.  Only the African cheetah can run faster, but even then, the cheetah is only faster for the first 100 meters or so, after that, the big cat flags a bit, but the pronghorn can sustain its fast pace for much longer distances.

Pronghorn evolved for speed way back in pre-glacial North America when a whole host of other animals existed here.  Believe it or not, there was actually a North American version of the cheetah, which is probably what the pronghorn was doing its best to run away from.  Interestingly, in terms of long term survival, it turns out that the pronghorn outlasts the cheetah once again.  The North American cheetah did not survive the glacial periods of the late pleistocene, but the pronghorn did.

A new book, A Pronghorn Year – A Visual Tribute to North America’s Pronghorn by Dick Kettlewell tells the story of the pronghorn with a host of wonderful photos.  The book serves as an excellent overview of this fascinating animal that is truly a joy to see running out there on the plains and the larger valleys of the West.

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Photo of the Week – October 10, 2014


Excellent photos of a fantastic part of Nebraska, which will one day be an integral part of the Great Plains Trail!

Originally posted on The Prairie Ecologist:

For the second time in two weeks, I got to travel west into drier, shorter prairie.  This week, our crew attended the Nebraska Natural Legacy Conference in Gering, Nebraska – at the far western end of the state.  While there, we explored both Scotts Bluff National Monument and the other parts of the Wildcat Hills.  A significant portion of this beautiful rocky landscape has been conserved and opened to public access by a partnership called Wildcat Hills Wildlands, a partnership between Platte River Basin Environment, The Nature Conservancy, and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.  It is a spectactular and under-visited part of the world.

I caught the sunrise at Scotts Bluff National Monument yesterday, and then joined a tour of the Bead Mountain Ranch in the afternoon.  Here are some photos from those two places.

As the sun turned the sky pink to the east, the moon was dropping in the west.  Scotts Bluff National Monument. As the sun turned the sky pink in the east, the moon was…

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