By Gabriella Rossner
Looking very much like a green spiky pompom emerging from the ground, Muhlenbergia rigens can be found along the coastal ranges of southern and central California below 7,000 feet of elevation, as well as in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade foothills, and the eastern part of the state’s North Coast range. Although it’s commonly known as deergrass, deer are not such fans of this evergreen plant when full grown. In fact, it’s more popular among small birds as its seeds provide a valuable food source.
Belonging to the bunchgrass family, this large perennial is characterized by dense, tufted foliage consisting of narrow, pointed basal leaves that range in color from silver-green to purple. Deergrass’s spike-like stems are less than half an inch wide and grow to three to four feet in length. When it blooms, the plant’s flowers often reach up to five feet in height. The plant thrives in a wide range of ecosystems including grassland, riparian, chaparral, mixed conifer, and oak woodland communities. It prefers sandy or gravelly soils, but will grow in most soils as long as they are well drained.
Deergrass is especially suited to be drought resistant. As a native California plant, it does not need any supplementary water once mature, and only requires water a maximum of once a week while growing. It is one of the easiest drought-resistant plants to cultivate, growing from 4 inches to 4 feet and reaching full maturity in one to two years.
Because of its extensive root system, deergrass can be a valuable stream bank stabilizer, helping prevent or minimize erosion. It has traditionally been used by central and southern California Native Americans to produce baskets. The long seed stalks were a favorite to use in coil baskets. It is said that deegrass is widely spread today in California due to Native American propagation for the purposes of basket weaving.
To learn more about this beautiful California native bunchgrass, click here.