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What is Wild Rye?

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  • Written By: Deneatra Harmon
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Wild rye is a type of grass that grows to approximately two to six feet tall (about 0.6 to 1.8 m). Its foliage growth also varies anywhere from two feet (about 0.6 m) to upwards of 18 feet (about 5.4 m), depending on the species. Wild rye is usually found in North America and Siberia, but can grow virtually anywhere with a cool-weather season. The perennial varieties seem endless; blue wild rye, Canadian wild rye and Russian wild rye are among the most common. These and other wild grasses, which come from the Poaceae (Grass) family, share similar growth qualities and appearance, and provide a few ornamental and agricultural benefits along the way.

Blue wild rye tolerates some drought and shade in areas such as dry hillsides. Found mostly in the western United States, the grass is identifiable by its tufts that contain a few stems per grass blade. The leaves that form on the stems typically grow as high as 12 inches (about 0.3 m), with a width of no more than 1/2 inch (0.01 m).

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Canadian wild rye grasses grow and spread quickly into spiky, grain-like seed heads and drooping stems. The most common areas to find it includes both the east and west coasts of the United States, as well as parts Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario in Canada. The average height of this particular wild grass stands no taller than 6 feet (about 1.82 m). The Canadian variety also produces long, green leaves followed by green, brown or tan fruit and leaves each year.

Also considered to be a bunchgrass perennial like the Canadian and blue varieties, Russian wild rye plants produce dark or light green foliage, sometimes with a hint of blue on the leaves. This grass species usually grows larger and taller than the other aforementioned grasses, with leaves ranging in height from 6 inches (about 0.15 m) to approximately 18 inches (about 0.45 m). The grass features stems that reach around 36 inches high (0.91 m), and its seeds spread and thrive for about six years. Russian wild rye was founded as a rotation crop in Siberia, then introduced to North America during the early 20th century. It grows best in clay soils along pastures as well as areas where wheatgrass exists.

All three perennial grasses, along with most other wild rye varieties, bloom in the fall, early spring, and the late summer seasons. Slightly moist soils do not harm the grasses, and a combination of partial shade and sunlight fosters plant growth. In addition to dry hillsides, blue wild rye fits in with prairies and woodlands. The Russian version resides in pastures or prairies. Canadian wild rye covers some ditches, grasslands, and ravines.

Canadian wild rye, which attracts butterflies, can be used for ornamental or landscaping purposes, as material for a bird's nest or for cow livestock. Blue wild rye tends toward cattle- and horse-grazing, while the leaves of the Russian wild grass contributes to hay production and attracts wildlife. The roots of these grasses should be planted, or the seeds should be distributed, starting during the fall. As with most plants and flowers, the roots should be divided so they grow evenly. Alternatively, seeds should be dispersed over the soil in order for them to get the necessary sunlight for growth.

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