The Amazing Grass Family
What do bamboo, wheat and sugarcane have in
common? They are members of the family Graminaea—the
grasses! Grasses cover nearly one-third of the world's land area.
They thrive on mountain tops and on lands below sea level; they
grow north of the Arctic Circle and south almost to the Antarctic
ice cap. Grasses grow in neatly tended lawns, in forests, and even
here in the desert landscape of eastern Oregon.
Grasses survive in so many places because they
require less moisture than other plants. Most of a grass plant
is underground, in the roots. They become dormant during
drought and revive when the rains return. Perennial grasses
die back to their roots in winter, sending up new shoots in
spring that will later sow their own seeds. Some grasses are
annual, living only one year, depending entirely on seeds for
the next year's population. Many species spread by sending
out runners that creep underground or at the surface. These in
turn send up new stems, so that a single plant may produce a
large patch of vegetation. The dense sod that develops protects
soil against erosion.
Grasses present yet another advantage. The growth
points of their leaves and stems are at the base of the plant.
When grazed or cut, these growth points remain unharmed and
the plant re-grows. Whether grazed, mowed or burned, grasses
will come back again and again with proper management.
These low-lying areas have water tables
near the surface and are often covered
by shallow lakes during wet seasons.
Evaporation leaves a white alkaline
residue sparsely covred with saltgrass,
greasewood, and saltbush.
Stream banks, marshes and meadows
provide oases for wildlife in the aird
desert. Moist conditions also host
Great Basin wildrye and other grasses,
as well as sedges, rushes, and forbs like
wild iris and blue camas.
Juniper Overstory Rims
These sites, higher in elevation, receive
slightly more precipitation. Open
stands of juniper dominate an
understory of shrubs, grasses and forbs
like lupine and Indian paint brush.