Avenula hookeri    (Scribn.) Holub

Spike Oat 


MN Status:
special concern
Federal Status:
none
CITES:
none
USFS:
none

Group:
vascular plant
Class:
Monocotyledoneae
Order:
Cyperales
Family:
Poaceae
Life Form:
graminoid
Longevity:
perennial
Leaf Duration:
deciduous
Water Regime:
terrestrial
Soils:
sand, gravel, loam
Light:
full sun
Habitats:

(Mouse over a habitat for definition)


Best time to see:

  Foliage   Flower   Fruit  
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Avenula hookeri Avenula hookeri

Click to enlarge


Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation

  Synonyms

Avena hookeri, Helictotrichon hookeri

  Basis for Listing

In the northern Great Plains Avenula hookeri typically occurs in prairie habitats, but in the northern Rocky Mountains it also occurs in subalpine meadows and montane forest openings (Tucker 2007). The species just barely reaches Minnesota at the eastern edge of its geographic range, where it occurs only in dry, sandy or gravelly prairies. Suitable habitats for A. hookeri were probably in short supply even before settlers plowed the prairies, and the situation has only gotten worse. At this point in history, very little true prairie habitat remains in Minnesota, and much of what does remain is in a biologically impoverished condition or threatened by activities such as gravel mining and overgrazing of livestock. Years of abuse and neglect have cost us much of the species diversity and ecosystem services that prairies originally had to offer. One of the many species to have suffered a decline is A. hookeri, which was listed as a special concern species in Minnesota in 1996.

  Description

Avenula hookeri is a perennial, mid-height grass with smooth, erect stems that may reach a height of 75 cm (2.5 ft.), although it is typically much shorter, around 30 cm (1 ft.) tall. It tends to form clumps rather than a sod. The leaves are flat or longitudinally folded, 4-20 cm (1.6-7.9 in.) long, 1-4.5 mm (0.04-0.18 in.) wide, and have an acute, membranous ligule 3-7 mm (0.12-0.28 in.) long. The leaf blade tips are "boat-shaped" and the margins of the blades are whitish. The inflorescence is an erect or ascending panicle 6-11 cm (2.4-4.3 in.) long and 0.8-2.5 cm (0.31-0.98 in.) wide. Each branch of the panicle has 1 or 2 spikelets that are 12-16 mm (0.47-0.63 in.) long, and each spikelet has 3-6 flowers. The glumes are 9-14 mm (0.35-0.55 in.) long with 3-5 veins, and they have an acute tip. The callus at the base of the glume is a cluster of hairs less than 1 mm (0.04 in.) long. The lemmas are 10-12 mm (0.39-0.47 in.) long, shorter than the adjacent glumes, and have a twisted awn 10-17 mm (0.39-0.67 in.) long that projects out beyond the spikelet. The paleas are 6-8.75 mm (0.24-0.34 in.) long and have a shallowly toothed tip.

Avenula hookeri bears a general resemblance to Danthonia spicata (poverty grass), which may occur in the same habitat, but the ligule of A. hookeri is a membrane and the ligule of D. spicata is a fringe of hairs.

  Habitat

Avenula hookeri occurs in dry prairies on morainic hills, bluffs, and beach ridges in the northwestern part of the state, specifically in communities classified as northern dry prairies (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2005). Soils are well-drained, sandy, sandy loam, or gravelly. Dominant species are mid-height and short grasses such as Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium (little bluestem) and Hesperostipa spartea (porcupine grass), and a variety of forbs such as Liatris punctata var. punctata (dotted blazing star) and Symphyotrichum sericeum (silky aster).

  Biology / Life History

Avenula hookeri is a cool-season species that blooms late spring/early summer and becomes relatively inconspicuous during the hot, dry part of summer (mid-July through August), but puts up a conspicuous tuft of bright green new blades in late summer.

In one published study from central Alberta (Bailey 1978), A. hookeri was shown to increase in frequency while remaining essentially unchanged in percent cover as a result of annual early spring burns over a period of 25-30 years. In that case, A. hookeri was a subordinate species and thought to have increased in frequency because it was better adapted to arid environments than the dominant Festuca campestris (rough fescue) and Hesperostipa curtiseta (western porcupine grass). Because A. hookeri is non-rhizomatous, which means it reproduces only by seeds, an increase in frequency could be interpreted as an increase in genets (seed-derived individuals). The fact that percent cover of A. hookeri remained constant even though the number of individuals increased, might be interpreted as each individual producing fewer stems resulting in smaller clumps.

The best time to search for A. hookeri is when the inflorescence is fully developed, from about the middle of June through the middle of September.

  Conservation / Management

As with most prairie species, the survival and perpetuation of A. hookeri is dependent on protection and effective management of its habitat. Habitat loss and degradation comes from many sources, but perhaps the most common sources are gravel mining and overgrazing by domestic livestock. The latter often leads to an increase in non-native weed species. The cause of this problem is easily remedied by reducing or eliminating grazing, but the non-native species can be a problem that persists for years or decades. The tenacious persistence of weeds highlights the need to keep intact, diverse prairie communities free of invasive species from the beginning. Encroaching woody plant species, even native woody species, can also become a problem if they become overabundant, and are best controlled by dormant season spring burning. If burning is consistently done during the dormant season, it should not harm A. hookeri.

  Conservation Efforts in Minnesota

As of Spring 2010, there were approximately 22 documented records of A. hookeri in Minnesota, although eight populations have not been seen since the 1960s or earlier. Seven of the 22 records occur (or occurred) on public lands including one State Park, three Scientific and Natural Areas, and two Wildlife Management Areas. However, the effects of management, or lack of management, on these populations is not currently being monitored.

  References

Bailey, A. W. 1978. Use of fire to manage grasslands of the Great Plains: Northern Great Plains and adjacent forests. Pages 691-693 in D. N. Hyder, editor. Proceedings of the first international rangeland congress, Denver, Colorado.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. 2005. Field guide to the native plant communities of Minnesota: the prairie parkland and tallgrass aspen parklands provinces. Ecological Land Classification Program, Minnesota County Biological Survey, and Natural Heritage and Nongame Research Program. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, St. Paul, Minnesota. 362 pp.

Tucker, G. C. 2007. Avenula. Pages 698-699 in Flora of North America Editorial Committee, editors. Flora of North America north of Mexico. Volume 24. Oxford University Press, New York, New York.