Range Plants

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Learning to recognize range plants and their role in the ecosystem is key to good range management.
  • Range plants include grasses, forbs (herbaceous broad-leaved plants with non-woody stems), shrubs, and grass-like plants including sedges and rushes.
  • Both native and introduced plants can be found on rangelands. Most range plants are native, originating in North America. Introduced plants are brought into North America from other countries. Most seeded pastures contain introduced species.
  • Cool-season (C3) plants display most of their growth in spring before warm temperatures arrive. Cool-season plants produce most of the forage in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Warm-season (C4) plants begin growth when soil temperatures rise in late spring, displaying principle growth in summer. There are only a few warm-season plants in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
  • When leaf area is removed from a plant by grazing, the plant must rely on stored carbohydrates to produce new leaves. Carbohydrate reserve levels drop, and root growth and other growth functions slow or stop until leaf area is restored. Uncontrolled grazing can deplete the plant’s stored carbohydrates completely, ultimately leading to death. Particular attention must be paid to repeated defoliation during spring and fall.
  • Grazing rangeland too early in spring reduces plant leaf area for photosynthesis, slows replacement of depleted carbohydrate reserves, reduces plant vigor, and reduces total forage production. With prairie vegetation, total annual forage production increases when spring grazing is delayed in May and June. Delaying grazing on native rangeland until late June will maximize annual forage production.
  • Grazing readiness in the spring does not occur on the same date each year. The best time to begin grazing should be based on the developmental stage of key grass species on the range. The recommended plant development stage for beginning spring grazing of both native and tame grass species is when the plants have three to four full leaves.
  • Although grazing reduces carbohydrate reserves in plants, the impact is short-lived if grazing is not severe or season-long. Grazing systems that provide for rest periods during the growing season will allow leaf regrowth, carbohydrate buildup, and plant recovery.
  • Adequate carbohydrate reserves are best maintained by:
    • Delaying initial grazing on native range until plants reach the 3 to 4 leaf stage.
    • Keeping early grazing periods short.
    • Leaving adequate leaf area at the end of each grazing period.
    • Allowing adequate time between grazing periods for leaf growth and reserve buildup.
    • Allowing for adequate time and leaf area late in the growing season for reserve buildup and insulation.
  • Range health is more directly related to the amount of forage left ungrazed than the amount consumed. Residual forage left after grazing is a critical measure of rangeland health.
  • Residual forage will:
    • Leave a metabolic reserve of leaf and stem so plants recover more quickly from grazing.
    • Add organic matter to the soil, improving soil structure over time.
    • Hold water so it can infiltrate into the soil.
    • Reduce evaporation.
    • Keep soil cooler.
    • Reduce erosion.
    • Boost forage production on subsequent years.
  • Balance stocking rates with the available forage supply to provide enough for livestock consumption, allow for other losses (including damage by insects, wildlife, trampling, etc.), and leave enough residue to promote the next season’s growth.
Fact Sheets

Alberta Range Plants and Their Classification

Plants Poisonous to Livestock and Other Animals

Determining Grazing Readiness for Native and Tame Pasture

Effects of Grazing Dates on Forage and Beef Production of Mixed Prairie and Crested Wheatgrass - available in PDF format only

Identification of Common Range Plants of Southern Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Identification of Common Range Plants of Northern Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Index of Kansas State Grass Key Images

Managing Residual Forage for Rangeland Health - available in PDF format only

Managing Saskatchewan Rangeland - available in PDF format only

Ontario Wildflowers

Saskatchewan Ecosite and Range Management Resources

Range Plant Community Guide and Stocking Rates - Alberta

Range and Pasture Management - Alberta

Research Papers

An assessment of variation in foothills rough fescue [Festuca campestris (Rydb.)] in southern Alberta - available in PDF only

An assessment of variation in Idaho fescue [Festuca idahoensis (Elmer)] in southern Alberta - available in PDF format

Comparing Simple and Complex Native Forage Mixtures for Grazing Cattle in Southwesten Saskatchewan - available in PDF format only

Cool Season Grasses in Rangelands

Detection of genetic deversity in rough fescue (Festuca campestris Rydb.) populations in southern Alberta and British Coulumbia, Canada, using RAPD markers - available in PDF format only

Effect of native prairie, crested wheat grass (Agropyron cristatum (L.) Gaertn.) and Russian wildrye (Elymus junceus Fisch.) on soil chemical properties - available in PDF format

Effects of grazing dates on forage and beef production on mixed prairie rangeland - available in PDF format only

Effect of heavy grazing pressure on random amplified polymorphic DNA marker diversity of mountain rough fescue (Festuca campestris Rydb.) in southern Alberta - available in PDF format only

Forage quality of seeded native grasses in the fall season on the Canadian Prairie Provinces - available in PDF format only

Germination temperature response of two ecotypes of winterfat - available in PDF format only

Management of Praire Rangeland - available in PDF format only

Nutrient Content of Native Forages - available in PDF format only

Production Characteristics of the Mixed Prairie: constraints and potential - available in PDF format only

Re-evaluation of native plant species for seeding and grazing by livestock on the semiarid prairie of western Canada - available in PDF format only

Russian wild rye nutritive quality as affected by accession and the environment - available in PDF format only

The Matador Project: An Introduction - available in PDF format only
  This document is maintained by Linda Hunt.
This information published to the web on September 3, 2003.
Last Reviewed/Revised on June 23, 2016.

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