top of page

orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)
























orchard grass



Dactylis aschersoniana Graebn.

TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of orchardgrass is

Dactylis glomerata L. Several varities have been recognized; for the Nature

Guide, variety glomerta will be used (it is by far the most common variety

of Dactylis glomerata).


NATIVE STATUS: Introduced, United States and Canada.


Orchardgrass was introduced to the eastern United States from Europe in
1760.  It is widely planted in the United States and Canada.



cool-season, perennial bunchgrass, 1.4 to 4 feet (0.5-1.2 m ) tall with erect, glabrous culms and blades 4 to 16 inches (10-40 cm) long and 0.1 to 0.5

inch (0.2-1.1 cm) wide.  The inflorescence is a panicle with two to six

florets per spikelet, with the spikelets tightly clustered on one side of the

branch.  Orchardgrass is nonrhizomatous.  Most root development is in

the upper 3 inches (8 cm) of soil but extends to at least 18 inches (46 cm)

below the surface, producing a dense sod of medium-sized roots.


REGENERATION PROCESS: Orchardgrass reproduces largely by seed

and by tiller formation. The relatively large seed does not have an innate dormancy. Seed can germinate in either light or darkness; germination is

largely controlled by moisture availability, and most seed germinates in the

fall. Thus, orchardgrass does not tend to build up seedbanks in the soil.


HABITAT TYPES: An introduced species, orchardgrass is not generally

used for habitat typing.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Orchardgrass is best adapted to well-drain-

ed, rich or moderately fertile soils with an adequate water regime (12 inch-

es or more annual precipitation [30 cm]) and temperatures that are not
extreme.  Optimum top growth is achieved at temperatures of approx-

imately 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 deg C).  Orchardgrass is shade tolerant

and does well at higher elevations in the western United States and Canada

(4,900 to 6,200 feet [1,500-1,900,m]).  It is widely planted in the eastern

United States, most notably in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Orchardgrass begins growth early in

spring and flowers from May to September or October.  In dry areas it is

dormant in summer, but will add new growth in the fall, and will flower

again in fall under appropriate conditions. A green basal rosette is main-

tained through winter.  Flowering appears to be temperature rather than

light dependent.  Seed shattering takes place in late summer; most seed

will germinate in fall as there is no innate dormancy.

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Orchardgrasss occurs in all states in the

United States and all Canadian provinces (except Saskatchewan and

the upper most regions of the Territories).




Grass specimens can be found on trails marked in red.


       Bleak House
       Appalachian Trail/Old Trail
       South Ridge/North Ridge
       Gap Run
       Woodpecker Lane

       Sherman's Mill
       Rolling Meadows/ Lost Mountain
       Fish Pond


The specific distribution of orchardgrass has not been determined.


IMPORTANCES AND USES: Orchardgrass is moderately nutritious

and highly palatable to deer, elk, bighorn sheep, cattle, and domestic sheep

and goats.  The persistent, green, basal rosette provides good winter forage

for deer and elk.  Early spring growth provides green forage for all species.

Cattle will eat orchardgrass preferentially in early spring and summer, up

to 50 percent of total diet.  Elk and mule deer also prefer orchardgrass over

a number of other species.  In areas disturbed by fire where orchardgrass

has been seeded (usually in a mixture with other grasses and forbs), wild-

life use increases over nonseeded areas and nonburned areas.  Forest open-

ings, where orchardgrass is dominant, are associated with rufous humming-

birds, pine siskins, slate-colored juncos, American robins, valley pocket
gophers, desert harvest mice, deer mice, Mexican voles, and white-tailed
deer.  Grasshopper sparrows and eastern meadowlarks were more abun-

dant in cultivated fields in Georgia codominated by orchardgrass than in

fallow or natural fields.  Wild turkeys graze orchardgrass in winter, and

poults use it as a source of cover and insects in late summer.  Rabbits use orchardgrass for food and cover; Canada geese feed on the seeds and leaves.


Orchardgrass is widely recommended and used for a variety of rehabilita-

tion applications.  It is recommended for planting with a mixture of grass-

es and legumes to reduce erosion after devegetation by fire.  Orchardgrass

often shows early success, eventually being replaced by native vegetation

or other seeded species.

Orchardgrass is used in seed mixtures with other grasses and forbs (usual-

ly clover or alfalfa) for rehabilitation of overgrazed lands.  The success of orchardgrass appears to depend on the appropriateness of the site to specif-

ic adaptations of orchardgrass cultivars, and also on proper management

of grazing.

Orchardgrass is planted in areas that have been logged and burned to
provide a vegetative cover for soil stabilization and provide forage for
cattle and/or wildlife.

Orchardgrass is also used for rehabilitation of sites disturbed by mining.

The most successful applications in the western United States appear to

be sites that are relatively cool and moist (upper elevations, shaded areas,


Plantings of orchardgrass mixtures do well where there is adequate
moisture (12 inches or more annual precipitation) and where tempera-

tures are not extreme.  In the drier western states it is better adapted for

higher elevations or in irrigated pastures and croplands.  However, in

the northeastern United States, particularly the southern part of the region, orchardgrass is so well adapted that it will invade alfalfa stands (Medicago


Some cultivars are more drought resistant than others.  The following list

of cultivars indicates the wide range of strains available; there are many

more cultivars available--new ones are still being listed.

'LATAR' is a late-season strain, highly recommended for pasture and hay
production; it is 10 percent higher in digestibility than other cultivars and

is more compatible with legumes, especially alfalfa (Medicago sativa).

'POTOMAC' is an early-season strain, better adapted to mountain sites.

'PAIUTE' is more drought tolerant than other cultivars.

'POMAR' is a specially adapted low-growing strain particularly suited as
a cover crop in orchards and for road bank stabilization.


Orchardgrass is a widely planted pasture grass and is used to increase

forage production on rangelands.  It is frequently part of mixtures that are

seeded in mountain brush, especially Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii)

types to improve rangeland.  These mixtures are drilled or broadcast seed-

ed after some type of surface preparation--usually removal of brush by

burning or chaining, or by herbicide application.  Orchardgrass is used to

stabilize ski slopes in Montana and to suppress annual weeds.



Back to Inventory of Grass Families and Species

Home Page

Park Activities

   Calendar of Events
Volunteer Programs

   Park Regulations

Sky Meadows Park
   Visiting Park

   Virtual Tours

Crooked Run Valley

   Historic District

   Architecture Sites

   Mt. Bleak

   Historical Events

   Park History


Special Projects

   Blue Bird

   Biodiversity Survey



Home Page

Nature Guide






















bottom of page