Common name: Purple Needlegrass
Scientific name: Nassella
Family: Poaceae (grass)
Size: plants up to 2 feet tall
Fun facts: This grass was once nominated to be the “state grass” of California.
Description: Member of the grass family. Each grass flower is made up of a pair of tiny bracts and the stamens and pistil. Because grasses are wind pollinated, they do not need showy flowers to attract insects. In fact, petals could block the wind and prevent pollination.
At Mather Field, Purple Needlegrass is the only bunchgrass (perennial grass which grows in bunches) which has long needle-like awns on the grass seeds. The awn (or long bristle) helps drill the seed into the soil.
Life cycle: Purple Needlegrass is a perennial bunchgrass. It forms dense clumps of leaves up to 1 foot tall. It blooms in May and the flower stalks can be up to 2 feet tall.
Ecology: Purple Needlegrass remains green throughout the year. Both the leaves and the roots are important food sources for native herbivores during the hot, dry summer months. Rabbits eat the leaves and rodents nibble on the roots. It was once common but has been crowded out of most grasslands by invasive, non-native, annual grasses.
Investigate: Purple Needlegrass only occurs in some locations on Mather Field. Can you figure out the type of habitat it prefers?