Cheat Grass is an alien invader that is now in all 50 states. I have my share.
It grows about a foot tall here, and is out competing wildflowers on the northwest corner of my property.
As any member of the Grass (Poaceae) family, it has edible seeds, and a lot of them. Oddly enough, a paste from the seeds can make a poultice for chest pain. That’s an interesting treatment, but I cannot back it up with any facts.
Cheat Grass is available in late winter when nothing else is growing and the rabbits come eat it. On rangeland, it is grazed early by sheep. Deer and elk will also graze it in early spring.
So where’s the beef?
Ask me about wildfires. Cheat grass is dry and tinder ready at the beginning of fire season and has increased the rate of wildfires across the western United States. Every wildfire increases Cheat Grass range increases wildfire increases Cheat Grass. Not a circle I want in my food forest. In another location I have seeded Blue Grama Grass, an excellent native grass that mixes well with wildflowers. I will also seed Blue Grama on that northwest corner, because rabbits need about 75 percent grass in their diet and I am short on my hill. My rabbits forage in the valley for roughage, however, I have small open areas that can carry native grass and my first seeded area of Blue Grama Grass will provide seed for the rest. I watched rabbits dig out dried grass last winter after our rare 4 foot snow dump and while digging my paths out, I uncovered some grass clumps for them. It was funny to have them follow me along as I dug myself out of that Godzilla snowstorm.
What can I do about Cheat Grass today? Nothing, it has completed its annual cycle. In the spring when it is the only grass up, I will spray it with vinegar to kill it. Not a solution for large spaces, but reasonable for my northwest corner. Vinegar will start the reversal of my Cheat Grass invasion, but not exterminate it since the seeds in the soil remain viable for years. I will push it back until I have more perennials in that area, which compete well, like Winterfat. The biggest reasons for invasions like Cheat Grass are over grazing and mechanical damage. My northwest corner is invaded by Cheat Grass because bulldozers severely damage soil that low precipitation cannot easily repair.