Russian Wildrye (Juncea)

The Russian Wildrye (Juncea) is generally described as a perennial graminoid. This is not native to the U.S. (United States) and has its most active growth period in the spring and summer and fall . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until spring. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Russian Wildrye (Juncea) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Russian Wildrye (Juncea) will reach up to 3 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Russian Wildrye (Juncea) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -36°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Russian wildrye is one of the most versatile forage grasses available for dryland pastures. Its forage can be utilized during all seasons, and when cured, retains a higher protein percentage than wheatgrasses.

Use for Hay: Russian wildrye is not well suited to hay production. Most of the growth and production is from basal leaves, which are difficult to pick up with harvesting equipment.

Use for Pasture: This grass is best adapted for use as pasture in dry areas. It is as long-lived as crested wheatgrass. Russian wildrye begins spring growth a little later than crested wheatgrass. It continues growth and stays greener longer into the summer than crested wheatgrass. The forage is very palatable. It has a longer growing period than most dryland grasses. Russian wildrye has the ability to cure later in the growing season with good protein levels. This allows for a long grazing season. It is generally recommended for late summer through winter grazing. It is tolerant of grazing and regrows quickly after clipping lending itself to use as irrigated as well as dryland pasture.

Erosion control/reclamation: Russian wildrye gradually develops into stands with fairly wide spaced plants. It therefore is not considered the best choice for erosion control for either wind or water erosion objectives. In low rainfall areas, Russian wildrye requires wide spaced rows (18 inches or greater) to be productive. It is very competitive with weeds once established.

Salinity: Russian wildrye has good tolerance to salinity. It is a species of choice in low rainfall saline areas with moderate to well drained soils.

Wildlife: Russian wildrye is highly palatable to wildlife, especially deer, elk and antelope. It is generally utilized by wildlife in late summer through winter.

General Characteristics

Russian wildrye is a large, cool-season, introduced, long-lived, perennial bunch grass. It has an abundance of long, dense, basal leaves that are from 6 to 18 inches long and up to ┬╝ inch in width. Plants vary from light to dark green, with many shades of blue-green.

The erect, leafless reproductive stems are about 30 to 40 inches tall. The seedhead is a short dense, erect spike with two or more short-awned spikelets clustered at axis joints. The seed shatters readily at maturity. The seed is about the same size as crested wheatgrass seed.

The roots are fibrous and may establish to a depth of 6 to 8 feet. However, about 75 percent of the roots are in the surface 6 to 24 inches. Russian wildrye roots have an extended horizontal spread and may draw heavily on soil moisture for a distance of up to 4 to 5 feet. Its long season of growth and its vigorous soil-feeding habit make this species an excellent competitor with weeds once the grass is well established.

Required Growing Conditions

This species was introduced from Siberia. For current distribution, consult the Plant Profile page on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Russian wildrye can be grown successfully wherever crested wheatgrass is grown, but it is primarily a dryland pasture grass adapted to 8 to 16 inch annual precipitation areas.

Russian wildrye is well adapted to silt loam to heavy clay soils. It can be grown on a fairly wide range of soil types, but is most productive on fertile loam soils. It does poorly on soils with low fertility. It is more difficult to establish on sandy soils in dry areas than crested wheatgrass, but once established does very well.

It grows at elevations up to 7,500 feet in northern latitudes and to 9,000 feet in southern latitudes. Wide row spacing plantings (18 to 36 inch) produce more forage than narrow row spacing (6 to 14 inch) plantings.

It is exceptionally cold and drought tolerant and has moderate tolerance of salinity and sodic to saline-sodic soil conditions. Its production is affected beginning at electrical conductivity (EC) levels of 12. This grass is not tolerant of spring flooding or high water tables.

Cultivation and Care

Russian wildrye requires special attention during the year it is seeded because it is difficult to establish. It must be planted in a firm, weed-free seedbed at ┬╝ inch depth or less. Wide row spacing plantings, 18 inches or greater, are recommended. The recommended seeding rate at this spacing is 4 pounds Pure Live Seed (PLS) per acre.

Seedlings are slow growing and weak requiring more time to establish a stand. The plants should be allowed to mature and set seed before they are grazed. Stands generally develop into widely spaced plants over time.

Stands are often open because Russian wildrye is usually seeded with wide row spacing, leaving the soil between plants susceptible to erosion. It should be planted on the contour where slopes are greater than 2 percent or may not be desirable at all where erosion control is the most important objective. Forage yields are similar to those of crested wheatgrass. Wide row spacing increases forage production.

Forage yields are also increased by seeding mixtures with legumes. Seeding the legume in alternate rows or cross-seeded rows decreases competition from Russian wildrye and optimizes forage quality and yield.

Environmental Concerns Russian wildrye is long-lived and spreads via seed. It is not considered weedy or an invasive species. Most established stands do not spread beyond original plantings. It is not known to hybridize with native species.

It is subject to attack by grasshoppers, cutworms and other insects, but no troublesome diseases have been noted.

Properly established and managed stands of Russian wildrye generally exclude weeds and native grasses and forbs. Some native shrubs such as big sagebrush and rabbitbrush can invade Russian wildrye stands if seed sources are nearby.

General Upkeep and Control


Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Graminoid
Growth Period Spring, Summer, Fall
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Introduced to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Bunch
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 3
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Spring
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -36
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Rapid
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6.5–9 pH
Precipitation Range 10–10 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance High
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA