Thousands of types of wild grass grow around the globe, says Washington State University Extension weed scientist Tim Miller, Ph.D. These forms of plants have also been essential to human survival for millennia. Modern cereal grains including wheat, corn, oats and rice are descendants of wild grasses. Hundreds of birds and wildlife species forage on or shelter in them. These grasses provide valuable erosion control, and the largest--bamboo--is an important source of building material.
Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) is a perennial bunchgrass. It’s native to the desert sand dunes and dry grasslands from British Columbia south to California and east to Missouri. A 1- to 2-foot high bunchgrass, it has wiry, lance-shaped grayish green leaves that become tan when the plant is dormant. Between June and September, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Indian rice grass has yellow or green flowers. Ivory seed heads that follow add to its appeal. Several Native American tribes cooked the ground seeds in water to make a nutritious meal. Domesticated livestock and several wildlife species feed on the drought-tolerant grass, useful for land reclamation in areas with sandy or rocky soil.
American Beach Grass
American beach grass (Ammophila brevilivulata) plays an essential role in the Atlantic Coast and lower Great Lakes ecosystems, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This tall, rigid upright perennial tolerates life on constantly shifting sand dunes with vertically growing roots that sprout new stems as sand submerges older ones. Older stems then become roots extending up to 20 feet deep. They give the dunes a stable structure. This perennial, evergreen grass grows wild from Maine to South Carolina, from Oregon to California and along the shores of the Great Lakes. It stands between 2 and 3 feet high, with yellow July-to-September flowers.
Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides) covers the shortgrass prairie and plains from Illinois south to Arkansas and west to Arizona. Growing between 3 and 12 inches high, this rhizome-spreading grass forms mats of blue-or grayish-green sod. Its narrow stems have curly foliage. Yellow, spiky flowers appear between October and March. Their attractive color and low growth habit make buffalo grass cultivars popular lawn choices. Drought-tolerant, this grass stays green with only 1.5 inches of water per month. Winter foliage on dormant plants provides forage for small mammals. Birds feed on its seeds and build nests from its leaves. Buffalo grass thrives in well-drained loam or clay, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.