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Purple needlegrass


Nassella pulchra


Needle grass, Purple stipa, Tussock grass

Plant family

Grass (Poaceae)

Plant group


A clumped grass that grows to about 30-100cm (1-3ft) in height. Each flower, or "floret" as they are called in grasses, is enclosed within a pair of small, semi-transparent bracts, the larger of which is hairy. Each floret will produce a one-seeded dry fruit called an "achene" and a long, needle-like awn.
49 reports

Identification hints

Needlegrasses grow in clumps and have rolled leaves and only one finely hairy flower in each spikelet. Purple needlegrass is distinctive in having an open loose cluster of flowers with spreading branches called "panicles" Look for the pair of reddish, narrow, leaf-like structures (called "glumes") at the base of each floret; the glumes are tapered from base to tip, with the tip narrowing to a sharp point (hence the name needlegrass).

Did you know?

Purple needlegrass, the state grass of California since 2004, was eaten by the native herds of ungulates that roamed the California grasslands (Tule elk, mule deer, and pronghorns) before cattle were domesticated and replaced most of these wild animals. Nasella pulchra continues to be a major forage species for domesticated livestock in California grasslands and oak woodlands. Roots of this plant can grow up to 6 m (20 feet) downward, helping it to reach reserves of soil moisture and to avoid the effects of summer drought.
This clumped grass can be found from Humboldt County in northern California south to Baja California except for dry habitats in northeastern California. It is most common in oak woodland, chaparral slopes, and grasslands below 4265 ft elevation (1300 m).
The strap-like linear leaves are very narrow and grow to about 5.91 to 19.7 in (15 to 50 cm) in length. The leaves bunch together at the base forming the recognizable clumps. Most of the leaves stay green during the year.
The flowers are small, 0.3 to 0.45 in long (7.5 to 11.5 mm) and bisexual, which means that both male anthers and a female pistil are found on the same plant. The flowers of purple needlegrass do not have petals. Each flower (or “floret” for grasses) is enclosed within a pair of small, semitransparent bracts, the larger of which is hairy. The florets are arranged in loose open clusters called panicles.
Each floret produces a one seeded dry fruit called an “achene”. Look for the 1.5 to 4 in (38 to 100 mm) long awn (needle-like appendages) attached to the tips of mature seeds – it is particularly conspicuous because it is usually bent twice along its length.
Bloom Time
May to June, with ripe seeds produced and dispersed in July, a month or so after non-native annual grasses have dispersed their seeds.

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