Roughleaf Ricegrass

Oryzopsis asperifolia
Species distinguishing characteristics: 
  • Perennial bunchgrass that forms loose, circular tufts in sparsely vegetated, rocky soils
  • Leaf blades are flat, broad, rough, and taper at both ends with open sheaths
  • Leaf blades are often taller than flowering stems when erect early in the season
  • Narrow, green flower cluster with short, erect branches
  • Single-flowered spikelets often clustered on one side of the panicle
  • Lemmas with stiff, whitish hairs at base and long, stout bent awns 
Family Characteristics: 
  • Flowering stems have nodes and are hollow and round in cross section
  • Alternate leaves sheath the stem on their lower portion and form a hairy or membranous scale (ligule) inside the base of the leaf sheath
  • Flower clusters of numerous spikelets that attach directly to the flowering stem (spike) or attach by small stalks and are often branched (panicle)
  • A pair of bracts, called glumes (the outer/lower one being larger), enclose spikelets at the base
  • Each spikelet has one or more florets (dry, single seeded flowers) surrounded by 2 bracts (a lower lemma and a smaller upper palea)
  • Lemmas and/or glumes may have needle-like, stiff hairs (awns)
  • Florets have 3 stamens (pollen organs) and 2 feathery stigmas (tip of female organ for receiving pollen) but lack showy petals and sepals as they are wind pollinated
  • Fruit is a seed-like grain enclosed in the bracts (called chaff in cereal grains)
  • Well-known members of this family include cereal grains such as wheat (Triticum spp.), corn (Zea spp.), rice (Oryza spp.), and oats (Avena spp.)
Growth habitat: 

Perennial bunchgrass, 20–70 cm tall, forms loose tufts.

Leaves and stems: 

 Flowering stems are erect to spreading and often exceeded in height by the erect, stiff leaf blades that attach to several non-flowering stems.  These deep green, flat (or slightly inrolled) leaf blades, 3–10 mm wide, become limp later in the summer and lay on the ground, but stay green throughout the winter until the next spring.  They are firm, rough to touch, and taper strongly at both ends.  Leaf blades on the flowering stems are greatly reduced or lacking.  Leaf sheaths do not fuse around the stems.  The bright purple bases of the leaf sheaths lay close to the ground (under the duff layer).  Ligules, 0.5–1 mm long, are usually longer near the edges and fringed with fine hairs.

Flowers: 

Flower cluster is a green, narrow, spike-like panicle, 5–10 cm long, with short, erect branches that often have spikelets aligned on one side of the panicle.  Each spikelet, 6–9 mm long, has a single floret, enclosed within nearly equal-sized, broad green glumes with translucent edges.  The glumes, 6–8 mm long, are abruptly narrowed to a pointed tip, have 7 nerves, and usually jagged margins.  The plump, shiny, whitish lemmas, 6–8 mm long, are firm, have rounded tips, and densely, stiff-haired bases.  A stout, bent awn, 5­–10 mm long, tips the lemmas, and a tuft of hairs tips the anthers (pollen sacs), 3.5 mm long.

Roots: 

Fibrous roots.

Seeds: 

Large, rice-like seeds tightly enclosed within the shiny, light tan lemmas with awns attached.  Seeds mature and fall off early in the season.

Habitat preferences: 

Moist to dry, gravelly or rocky soils of open forests (primarily coniferous forests), thickets, clearings, and disturbed areas at low- to mid-elevations.  Prefers full sun. 

Interesting facts: 

The genus name Oryzopsis is a combination of two Greek words- oruza (rice) and opsis (like) and refers to the rice-like grains.  The species name Asperifolia refers to the roughness of the leaves.  All species of Oryzopsis provide palatable and nutritious forage for livestock and native ungulates, such as deer (Cervidae spp.) and elk (Cervus elaphus).  However, these species are not particularly abundant or relied upon for food.

The large seeds of roughleaf ricegrass can be gathered and cooked or ground into a pleasant-tasting meal or flour.  Its sparse distribution and tendency to shed its seeds early makes it difficult to harvest in quantity. 

Biological Classification: