Monday, December 8, 2014

Deer Grass - Muhlenbergia rigens

Deer Grass - Muhlenbergia rigens
Deer Grass - Muhlenbergia rigens 

Deer Grass or deergrass, Muhlenbergia rigens, a monocot, is a perennial herb that is native to California and is also found outside of California, but is confined to western North America. Its range extends north into Shasta County, and south into New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. A member of Poaceae (Gramineae) Grass family, it inhabits a wide variety of habitats such as grassland, riparian, chaparral, mixed conifer, and oak woodland communities. 

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a fixation on plant names. Do they make sense, or not? This is one that seems to be a puzzlement. My research has found indications that deer do not readily browse on this plant. One source suggests that the name came about because the animals hid their fawns in it.  Admittedly, I have not seen it in the wild, but based on the plantings I have seen locally it would not seem to make an effective cover. Perhaps the best explanation is that it does grow in a prime deer habitat - the dry chaparral.

Some Native Californians ate deer grass roots. However, it was more valued for its flowering stalks which were utilized extensively in the making of coiled baskets. While still used in basketry, today it is more commonly used in water-wise gardens.The lovely gray-green foliage, which reaches lengths of about 3 feet, makes it a beautiful plant for home landscaping.  It is evergreen, shade and sun tolerant, grows well in sandy or gravelly well-drained soils, and can be maintained in fall by mowing. While recommended for xeriscapes, it may require some watering during the summer to keep it looking at its best. 

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