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Velvet Grass Study Launched at the Estero Americano Preserve

The Estero Americano Preserve is one of four sites around Sonoma County being utilized for a velvet grass study designed to examine the ability of velvet grass to self-pollinate. Velvet grass (Holcus lanatus) is a perennial bunchgrass that is native to Europe and was likely brought to California as a forage crop. Ironically, it provides very poor forage compared with many native grasses and herbs.

Photo of velvet grassesVelvet grass is now a pervasive invader of California’s coastal grasslands. It produces seeds prolifically, grows rapidly and is capable of producing dense monocultures. The success of velvet grass is peculiar because, as a perennial grass, it competes heavily with the suite of native perennial grasses that used to dominate California’s coastal grasslands. What factors have allowed velvet grass to be so wildly successful?

Most grasses are self-incompatible, meaning that they must undergo cross-pollination with a separate individual of the same species to produce viable seed. When invasive plants are new to an area, however, they may be isolated individuals. Developing the ability to self-pollinate could allow those isolated plants to reproduce and spread the invasion. Some invasive plants have developed that ability.

Photo of velvet grassA UC-Davis graduate student has placed plastic tubes capped with spun-bonded polyester over the immature flowering heads of 300 velvet grass plants across four coastal prairie sites, forcing them to self-pollinate. At the end of the flowering season, self-pollinated and cross-pollinated seeds from the same individual will be collected and planted in the greenhouse and compared for germination rates as well as other fitness characteristics.

For more information about this study, please contact:
Tawny Mata, PhD student at the University of California, Davis: tmmata@ucdavis.edu

© 2017 Sonoma Land Trust. All Rights Reserved. Landscape photos © Stephen Joseph Photography