Purple Needlegrasses are one of the most popular types of wildflowers. They grow in open areas, where they provide shade during hot summer days and cool shade during cold winter nights. The flowers have a purple color with white spots at their tips. These plants require full sun or partial shade, but thrive in both conditions. You may want to plant them near water sources so that they will get enough moisture from rain or dew drops on the leaves without drying out completely.
They prefer moist soil and do not like dry soils. They tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from warm to cold.
The best time to plant them is early spring when the ground temperature is still warm enough for the seeds to germinate. Planting them too late in the season could result in stunted growth or even death because they don’t have enough time to mature fully before frost kills off their roots.
The purple needlegrass is native to the southeastern United States and southern Canada. Its name comes from its purple flowers which resemble needles.
However, these plants are actually sterile seeds. When the plant reproduces, it produces fertile seeds instead of producing new shoots or stems. The flower spikes turn brown after blooming and then fall off after a few weeks. After flowering, the plants die back down to their original state until next year’s growing season begins again.
The purple needlegrasses are commonly grouped into two subspecies: The lower (or southern) purple needlegrasses and the tall (or northern) purple needlegrasses. The lower purple needlegrasses grow up to about three feet with a spread of six to twelve inches.
They thrive in damp, fertile soil and can survive in sunny dry soil as long as they get enough moisture. Taller purple needlegrasses grow up to six feet with a spread of twelve to twenty inches. Unlike the lower purple needlegrasses, they do not thrive in dry conditions, but they can survive in them for long periods of time if there is adequate moisture present.
When grown in large fields, the purple needlegrasses are popular grazing areas for wild animals. Many types of birds, such as the bobwhite quail and the northern bobwhite quail, eat the seeds.
They are also popular resting spots for migrating birds such as the red-winged blackbird and ducks that rest there during migration. These areas are also popular mating spots for many animals because of their dense cover.
The purple needlegrasses can be eaten by humans. They were a major food source for Native Americans and pioneers who traveled across the American west.
They were dried and used to make bread. Their flower buds and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The young seedlings can be eaten raw, steamed, or boiled like asparagus. The seeds can be eaten after being roasted or ground into a flour and used to make bread.
The lower purple needlegrasses are the ones most commonly used for food because they grow in larger quantities and are more widespread across the American landscape. They are important plants to know because they can be used for food during famine, survival, or any other time when food is scarce.
They can even be used as a method of survival in the desert because they contain a lot of water.
The purple needlegrasses were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes. The leaves and stems can be chewed into a paste and applied topically to remove leeches.
It can also be used to treat skin irritations and ulcers. An infusion of the dried flowers and leaves can be used as an eye wash or taken orally for stomachaches.
The Lakota people used the purple needlegrasses to make tattoos. They would mix charcoal, animal fat, and the flowers with water and apply it to the skin with small sticks.
The purple dye would stain the skin dark purple. This would fade over time and be replaced with new skin. The new skin would have a pattern of some sort, depending on the design the patient requested. This is why many Lakota people today still have purple tattoos on their face, hands, or torso.
Purple needlegrasses are also popular in flower arranging. The flowers are large and colorful, making them perfect for centerpieces.
They’re also used to make wreathes for decoration or ritual purposes. The stalks and leaves are also sometimes used to make bows for archery or decorative swords for pageantry.
Purple needlegrasses can be used as fodder for animals, specifically those that have purple coloring. They can feed chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small animals.
The purple needlegrasses can be difficult to control because they spread rapidly. They spread by seed, but also by extensive root systems.
One plant can send roots out over an area of up to fifteen feet. They can crack concrete and other hard surfaces, making them very destructive. They can also overwhelm natural vegetation and out-compete other plants, destroying animal habitat and damaging ecosystems. They are most often found in wetland areas alongside lakes, rivers, and streams.
The purple needlegrasses are susceptible to a number of fungal infections that affect only the family. The most common of these is a condition where the purple pigment disappears from the leaves and stems, turning them a light green color.
This does not harm the plant, but it loses most of its visual appeal and certainly some of its appeal for decoration. Another fungal infection causes streaks of white to appear in the leaves, stalks, and flowers.
The purple needlegrasses are often infected by a virus that affects the pigmentation of the leaves and flowers. Instead of being a rich purple, the infected ones are multicolored or even solid green.
These mutants are widely despised by the public, and most people take steps to destroy them as soon as they’re found.
The purple needlegrasses are susceptible to a type of beetle infestation. The beetles lay their eggs in the stalks, which then hatch and eat away at the inside of the plant.
This effectively kills it. This infestation can be treated by spraying the plants with a strong pesticide, but this is rarely done.
Nutritionally, the purple needlegrasses are very low. A hundred grams of dry purple needlegrasses only have three grams of protein, one gram of fat, seventeen grams of carbohydrate, four grams of fiber, nine grams of ash, and seventy-five milligrams of calcium.
They also have low levels of several B-complex vitamins and dietary minerals. (1)
The purple needlegrasses spread rapidly and are difficult to get rid of once they’re in an area. The best way to stop their spread is to quarantine an infected area by surrounding it with a barrier that the plants can’t cross.
The plants can’t survive in cold climates, so areas affected by it should be cold enough to kill the plants.
The most common way to destroy purple needlegrasses is through use of herbicides. This can be done by spraying it from a plane or helicopter, but it’s likely that over-spraying nearby areas will occur and kill off whatever vegetation there is.
Ground crews can spray it by hand, although this is a very tedious process and unlikely to ever get rid of all of it.
Another effective control method uses animals. Goats and some types of sheep will eat purple needlegrasses, but they must be continuously moved around so that they don’t eat too much of the same plant.
This is considered to be an outdated method, and is only used in very rural areas that don’t have the technology or funding for anything else.
Farmers in the southern United States have invested a lot into trying to find a way to get rid of the purple needlegrasses. The plants take a lot of the nutrients out of the soil and make it very difficult to grow food there.
There have been some experiments that have shown promise in controlling the spread of the plants. One experiment tried covering the ground with a thin layer of ash, which seemed to stop the spread for a year or two. Another method was to lay down a thick sheet of plastic that would be very time-consuming and expensive to do. The USDA is looking for funding for further experiments.
Sources & references used in this article:
Grazing Nassella: Maintaining Purple Needlegrass in a Sea of Aggressive Annuals by MR George, S Larson-Praplan, M Doran, KW Tate – Rangelands, 2013 – Elsevier
California native grasslands: A historical perspective by S Barry, S Larson, M George – Grasslands, 2006 – ucanr.edu
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Response of a native perennial grass stand to disturbance in California’s coast range grassland by JW Bartolome, JS Fehmi, RD Jackson… – Restoration …, 2004 – Wiley Online Library
Native consumers and seed limitation constrain the restoration of a native perennial grass in exotic habitats by JL Orrock, MS Witter, OJ Reichman – Restoration Ecology, 2009 – Wiley Online Library
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Release of roadside native perennial grasses following removal of yellow starthistle by SL Young, VP Claassen – Ecological Restoration, 2008 – er.uwpress.org
Restoring native grasses in California old fields by MR Stromberg, P Kephart – Restoration & Management Notes, 1996 – JSTOR