Orchard Grass

Orchard Grass, Vancouver Island, BC
Orchard Grass, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Bud Logan

Orchard Grass is widely distributed throughout most of the south coast and quite invasive on Vancouver Island and is more common on the southern half. Orchard grass was introduced to North America from Europe as forage grass over 200 years ago. Since then, it has spread through much of Canada and the U.S. and is still cultivated for hay and pasture.

It can be found in fields, waste areas, orchards, and roadsides. On Vancouver Island, orchard grass is distributed more on the South Island than the North Island and is cultivated on the south end. This grass is shade and drought tolerant and does well in both rich and poor soils. However, it does not tolerate flooding.

Orchard grass is a coarse, clump-forming, cool-season perennial grass that starts growing early in the spring. It produces a very characteristically shaped flower head, consisting of rounded clumps of flowers that are borne on a few, stiff branches which jut out to the sides.

This species reproduces by seeds, and clumps can expand by producing new shoots from the base of existing stems.

Leaves are folded in the bud. The leaf blade is light green to dark blue-green, hairless, somewhat rough on the upper and lower surfaces and margins, and sharply folded. Leaf-blades can be up to 30 cm long and up to 1 cm wide. The leaf sheath is hairless, rough, and flattened, forming a sharp crease. The ligules are membranous, finely toothed, rounded to pointed, and relatively long up to 1 cm long.

The flower head is up to 20 cm wide and is produced at the top of the stem. It is composed of a few stiff branches that bear dense, coarse-looking, irregularly rounded clusters of flowers. The lower branches of the flower head are longer and more branched than the ones near the top. Branches of the flower head are spreading at bloom, but close up around the stem during seed production.

Orchard grass prefers to grow in dry meadows, Garry Oak woodlands, old pastures, along roadsides, and is shade and drought tolerant.

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