IDENTIFICATION - Annual or winter annual grass. Cheatgrass has a fine, feathery appearance overall, with slender light-green stems drooping at the tips where the seeds form. Seed spikelets and their bristles can be 5 centimetres long. Mature grass grows to 75 centimetres and turns first purple, and then brown, as it dries.
DAMAGE - Cheatgrass forms dense stands on sites that were previously disturbed. It is common in recently burned rangeland, winter crops, disturbed areas, abandoned fields, eroded areas and heavily grazed grasslands. If adequate soil moisture is available, cheatgrass can germinate in spring or fall. Plants that germinate in the fall are able to utilize spring moisture earlier than most other plants, and therefore have a competitive advantage. As a result, cheatgrass interrupts the natural revegetation of disturbed sites.
Cheatgrass provides an important source of spring forage on arid grazing lands. However, as plants mature, forage quality decreases and the plant becomes hazardous to consume. When dried, the long slender awns on the seed head can irritate and puncture the soft tissues inside the mouth of grazing animals and wildlife. Awns may also become lodged in the paws and ears of domestic pets, often causing infection.
In British Columbia, cheatgrass is common in southern parts, but rare elsewhere. It grows at low- to mid-elevations at the coast, and in the grasslands and dry forests of the Interior. It is common in recently burned rangeland, winter crops, disturbed areas, abandoned fields, eroded areas, and overgrazed grasslands.
Cheatgrass reproduces entirely by seed. Seeds mature in mid to late June. Seeds are dispersed short distances by wind. Humans and animals move seeds larger distances when awns attach to fur and clothing.
The most effective method of control for cheatgrass is to prevent establishment through proper land management. The healthier the natural plant community, the less susceptible it will be to cheatgrass invasion. Integrated management will require a combination of prevention and physical control. Areas free of cheatgrass should be monitored annually and all plants found should be destroyed immediately.