Prairie grass (Bromus wildenowii Kunth.)

Common Name: Prairie grass

Scientific Name: Bromus wildenowii Kunth.

Synonym: Rescuegrass; Bromus catharticus Vahl., Bromus brevis Nees ex Steud., Bromus haenkeanus (J. Presl) Kunth, Bromus unioloides Kunth. Ceratochloa cathartica (Vahl) Herter, Ceratochloa unioloides (Willd.) Beauv., Ceratochloa willdenowii (Kunth) W.A. Weber, Festuca unioloides Willd.

Family: Poaceae

Tribe: Poeae

Origin: South America.

Time of introduction:
This species was introduced in the early 1800s from South America and named rescue grass in 1853. 'Matua', the best known example, is an improved cultivar that was released in 1973 by New Zealand's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research-Grasslands Division.


Prairie grass is a cool-season perennial that is adapted to temperate climate areas with mild winters. Poor winter hardiness and susceptibility to foliar diseases limit its range of adaptation. Prairie grass is sensitive to ill-timed defoliation and if used as pasture should not be grazed during the transition phase when the terminal meristem is elevated. It can more easily be used for hay. It is best adapted to fertile soils with medium or coarse texture and while it tolerates heat and drought, it does not tolerate flooding or poor drainage. It is adapted to humidity, and in mild areas has a growing season from November to May. Its winter survival improves with the presence of snow cover.

Life cycle (annual/biennial/perennial):
Short-lived perennial.

Growth habit & Regrowth type:
Bunch-type growth habit with culmed, vegetative regrowth in each regrowth period.

Invasive potential:
Medium. Vigorous reseeding capacity.

Low to medium, depending on management. Will not tolerate continuous grazing.


Image Gallery: The OSU Forage Information System contains an Image Gallery that includes Prairie grass photographs and drawings useful in identification. The URL for the gallery is:

The direct URL for Prairie grass is:

Inflorescence: Prairie grass is an erect growing plant, typically 2 to 3 feet tall (80-100 cm), including the inflorescence. The inflorescence is an open, drooping panicle. (Prairie grass inflorescence)

Spikelets: Flattened spikelets containing 6-12 florets. (Prairie grass spikelets)

Seed: Large. 13-14 mm long, 2 mm wide. (Prairie grass seed)

Stem: Stems grow upright and are glabrous. (Prairie grass stem)

Leaf: Prairie grass is rolled in the bud, but sheaths are oval and leaves appear flat or folded. Leaves, light green to green in color, are 1/4 to 1/2 inch (5- 12 mm) wide and may be up to 18 inches (50 cm) long. Basal leaf sheaths are densely covered with fine hairs. (Prairie grass leaves)

Collar: The leaf collar is broad and divided. Prairie grass has no auricles. The ligule is long (8 mm), membranous, and fringed.

Root: Fibrous root system with no rhizomes.

Physiology and growth period:
Cool-season, (C3) physiology and anatomy. Excellent early spring and late autumn/winter growth in mild climate areas. Initiates growth at 41° F(5° C), stops at 90° F(32° C).

Seed heads are produced throughout the growing season, unlike most cool-season grasses. Produces well in warm summer conditions with adequate moisture.

Quality/anti-quality factors:
Forage quality is excellent in the vegetative stage, forage quality is good in later stages of maturity when typically harvested for hay or silage. No unique antiquality factors.



Suitability zones:
Adapted to temperate climates with mild winters.


Prairie grass is more drought tolerant than most cool-season grasses, but winter kills in extreme cold areas. It does not compete well with weeds, or tolerate close grazing or continuous stocking during the transition phase.

Quantitiative Table:

Max Temp (C)
Min Temp (C)
Precip (mm)
Soil pH Soil Drainage
Soil Salinity
Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High Low High
Well Adapted 22 30 -5.0 9999 750 9999 6.0 7.5 MWD WD 0 2
Moderate 20 31 -8.0 9999 650 9999 5.5 7.75 MWD SED 0 4
Marginal 18 32 -10.0 9999 550 9999 5.0 8.25 SPD SED 0 8
1. For the High values for January Minimum temperature and Annual Precipitation: "9999 is entered to indicate no limit to the high values for this tolerance category."
2. For Soil Drainage categories, " Abbreviations are used for Soil Drainage categories: VPD (very poorly drained), PD (poorly drained), SPD (somewhat poorly drained), MWD (moderately well drained), WD (well drained), SED (somewhat excessively drained), ED (excessively drained)."

Climate: Prairie grass is fairly hardy in open winters, although winterkill has been reported. Hardiness improves if snow cover is present. In mild winter climates, it is an active winter growing grass that will extend the forage production season.

Soils: Prairie grass is adapted to well drained, high fertility soils. It grows best in soils with a pH of 6.0-7.0. Generally, soils which support good alfalfa stands are good choices for prairie grass. Prairie grass will produce in warm summer conditions with adequate moisture. It grows well in sandy, drier soils that often limit other grass species, but requires irrigation when grown in semiarid areas.

Grazing Management: Grazing or mechanical harvest should begin at the boot stage for best quality, yield, and stand life. Prairie grass will tolerate close grazing provided it is in the boot stage at the beginning of grazing and the grazing period does not exceed 4 days. Under normal weather conditions, a regrowth rest period of 25-30 days is sufficient between harvests.

Unlike tall fescue, orchardgrass, and perennial ryegrass, prairie grass is a jointed grass (it has culmed vegetative regrowth). This means that it is more sensitive to grazing management and may be damaged by improper harvest management. Grazing or cutting prairie grass after the growing point has been elevated above grazing or cutting height and before the crop has entered the boot stage will dramatically reduce subsequent regrowth, and may result in plant death.

The mineral content of prairie grass herbage has not been well studied, but current data suggests that it is sufficiently different from traditional forage grasses to require increased attention to mineral supplementation strategies. In particular, low levels of forage magnesium and iodine have been reported. A complete forage quality analysis is recommended if there is any question of providing adequate levels of these minerals to your livestock.

Because of its specific management, soil, and fertility requirements, it is not likely or advisable that prairie grass would become the only grass on any farm. Experience suggests that, at most, 40% of a farm's acreage could be planted to this forage grass.

Turf Management: Not used for turf.

Pests: Diseases: Susceptible to mildew disease and head smut.

Pests: Insects: None reported

Pests: Nematodes: None reported


'Matua' was the first cultivar of prairie grass sold in the U.S. This variety was developed in New Zealand under grazing conditions and has been very productive. Other prairie grass varieties include 'Grasslands Dixon' and 'Grasslands Lakota'.


Prairie grass may be seeded in the fall or spring when soil temperatures are over 50 F (10 C). Some cultivars must be treated with a fungicide to control head smut. The awns can be removed mechanically, making the seed easier to plant with a drill. Prairie grass seedlings are not highly competitive, so existing vegetation and weeds need to be suppressed with herbicides or close grazing prior to planting.

Seeding rate:
For well prepared seedbeds, seeding rates of 25 lbs per acre (28 kg/ha) are recommended for drilled plantings and 30-40 lbs/a (33-44 kg/ha) for broadcast seeding. For conditions with poor seedbed preparation, seeding rates typically are increased by 50%.

Seeding depth:
Seed must not be planted too deeply. The seed should be covered, but not more than 1/4-1/2 inch (1/2-1 cm) of soil. No-till or conventional planting methods may be used at the higher seeding rates.

Fertilization and liming:
Prairie grass requires a high level of nitrogen (N) fertility. Its performance is directly proportional to the amount of N available. Applications of up to 720 lbs/a (800 kg/ha) of N per year have been applied to prairie grass stands. To minimize potential leaching of nitrogen to groundwater, more moderate levels of fertilization are recommended. A preplant application of 40 lbs N/a (44 kg N/ha) is recommended. Once established, an early spring application of 30-40 lbs N/a (33-44 kg N/ha) will encourage early growth. A similar application in the fall will extend the grazing season in regions where winter kill is not likely. For high levels of production, apply at least 50-60 lbs N/a (55-66 kg N/ha) following each mechanical harvest or 30-40 lbs N/a (33- 44 kg N/ha) following each grazing. Larger quantities of N may be applied when greater familiarity with the crop is obtained. Other soil nutrient levels should be amended to levels recommended for alfalfa. Optimal pH is between 6 and 7.


Primary use is for forage, but may be used for soil conservation or wildlife plantings.

Seed crop:
Seed production is primarily in New Zealand.

As a forage crop, prairie grass can be used for pasture, hay, or silage. Typically, it should be viewed as a complement rather than an alternative to traditional cool-season grasses. Due to its winter growth potential, growing prairie grass reduces supplementary feed requirements and the need for annual forage crops. Matua is best suited to silage and hay conservation, but it can also be used as dairy or beef pastures under rotational grazing management offering a high degree of palatability and quality at all stages of growth. The feed value is not as strongly affected by time of harvest as other grasses. If adequately fertilized, it is not uncommon for prairie grass hay to have crude protein and acid detergent fiber values similar to high quality alfalfa hay.

Erosion Control/Conservation:
Not typically used.

Wildlife habitat and feed:
Not typically used.

Not typically used.

Economic value:

Seed production is primarily in New Zealand. During the 2002-2003 crop season, it was grown on _____ acres (____ hectares), averaged ___ pounds per acre (___ kg/ha), and totaled _____ pounds (approximately __ million kg). At an average price of $____ per cwt, total farmgate value was $______. Wholesale value was estimated at $___ million and retail value at $___ million.

Oregon's production is approximately __% of total US prairie grass seed production.

Prairie grass is grown alone or mixed with other species as part of forage mixtures containing other cool-season grasses and legumes. Currently utilization is primarily for grazing cattle, followed by use as hay or haylage.

Assuming that prairie grass is seeded in mixures at a rate of 4.5 lb/ac (5 kg/ha), that amounts to 485,100 pounds (220,000 kg) of seed utilized as pasture mix in the 108,680 acres (44,000 ha) of grassland established each year in the 12 northeastern states.

Determining the value of prairie grass to the livestock produced in this region may be estimated by multiplying the percentage of feed obtained from forage times the percent prairie grass times the value of the livestock. If 60% of the feed units are from pasture, hay, and silage containing 20% prairie grass, approximately 12% of the value of the livestock products could be attributed to prairie grass.

Soil and water conservation:
"Green accounting" is difficult to do. Nevertheless, there is economic value to preserving the quantity and quality of soil and water resources and prairie grass is used in many applications that reduce soil erosion and help filter water. Its extensive, fibrous root system makes it effective for reducing surface soil erosion and reducing sediments in rivers and lakes due to filtering provided in pastures and riparian areas.

Not used as a turf species.


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  2. Hall, M.H. Species: Prairie Grass. Agronomy Facts 39. Penn State University Extension Service. University Park, PA. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  3. Kaye, J. Grasslands Matua Prairie Grass. Modern Forage Systems [Online]. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  4. Jacques, D. 2002. The identification of certain native and naturalized grasses by their vegetative characters. Canadian Agriculture Library (CAL) [Online]. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  5. Medlin, C.R., T.F. Peeper, J.P. Kelley, J. C. Stone, A.E. Stone, and M.A. Barnes. Cheat Control in Oklahoma Winter Wheat. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. Oklahoma State University. Stillwater, Oklahoma. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  6. Moore, K.J. 2003. Compendium of Common Forages: Prairiegrass. Forages: An Introduction to Grassland Agriculture (Sixth Edition). Iowa State University Press. Ames, Iowa.
  7. Rumball, W. and J.E. Miller. 2003. Cultivar release Grasslands Dixon prairie grass (Bromus catharticus Vahl.). New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research. Vol. 46:65-66. The Royal Society of New Zealand. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).
  8. USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 [Online]. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA. Available at (verified 12 July 2004).

David B. Hannaway and Daniel Myers, Oregon State University

Document creation:
18 June 2004

Last update:
13 August 2004

Marvin Hall, Penn State University
Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota

Review date: