Steward’s Trail Mix: Ventenata dubia

Summer is my favorite time of the year to get out and explore the beautiful landscapes of North America. While I may be a roving bigfoot with an appetite for exploration, I always like to come home to the Pacific Northwest to revisit my roots and reconnect with my bigfoot family. But this year, we found out there is a new invader moving into our home, and we need to do everything we can to prevent it from spreading. 

Invasive species are non-native plants, animals, or other organisms that cause harm to the environment, the economy, or human health – and Ventenata dubia affects all of these! Ventenata dubia, also known as ventenata or wiregrass, has been silently spreading across the Pacific Northwest, posing a threat to plants and animals alike. I hope you’ll keep reading to learn about Ventenata dubia and the steps you can take to protect the land that you love.

Meet Ventenata dubia

Ventenata dubia is a perennial grass native to the Eastern Mediterranean and affecting Europe, Africa, and Asia. It was first introduced to the United States as a forage crop in the early 1900s, but has since escaped cultivation and established itself in natural ecosystems. Ventenata dubia is characterized by its wiry stems (for which it’s gained the nickname “Wiregrass”), slender leaves, and unique seed structure. These seeds have an awn, a bristle-like structure that allows them to easily attach to animals, machinery, and clothing, aiding their dispersal over long distances (Photo by Carlos Aguiar).

Close up image of Ventenata dubia showing its wiry stems and unique seed structure.

What makes Ventenata an invasive species?

Ventenata is a serious threat here in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s spreading throughout the western United States. Here’s how it harms the environment, economy, and human health:

Environment: Ventenata dubia outcompetes native grasses and forbs due to its aggressive growth and ability to establish dense stands. This disrupts the natural balance of ecosystems, leading to reduced biodiversity and the loss of critical habitats for native plants and animals. 

Economy: Ventenata dubia poses a serious threat to livestock and wildlife grazing areas. The plant can take over quickly and decrease forage by 70%. It also is less nutritious than native grasses. It has the potential to invade agricultural lands, reducing crop yields and increasing production costs. Its presence can also affect the quality and marketability of hay and forage products, leading to economic losses for farmers and ranchers.

Human health: Ventenata dubia dries out earlier than other local grasses and becomes highly flammable in areas where it has invaded. Ventenata’s ability to carry fire rapidly across landscapes makes it a dangerous fuel source, threatening both natural and human communities.

Ventenata and Recreation

One of the reasons why Ventenata is so successful in spreading to new places is because it’s a hitchhiker – those bristly awns on its seeds act like little hooks, grasping onto shoes, clothes, animal fur, or outdoor gear. Then, it catches a free ride to wherever your adventure takes you, whether that’s your backyard, local park, or across the country on your next big trip. This is why it’s so important to remember to PlayCleanGo. Always start your day with clean gear, have yourself a fun and responsible adventure, and when you settle down at the end of the day, clean your shoes and equipment so they’re ready to go for your next outing.

Here’s how I recommend keeping your outdoor gear clean:

Shoes: Check the tread of your shoes and brush out any mud or debris into a trash receptacle. Small seeds can be hiding in this soil!

Clothes: Pick off any sticky seeds attached to your socks, pants, or other clothing, and make sure to throw them in the trash.

Animals: Check your furry friends for seeds in their coats. Always keep dogs on designated trails, and on leash, when required. If you know an area has invasive species present, it’s best to keep them close to you on the trail. Exploring on horseback? Be sure to clean out their hooves like you would your own shoes.

Gear: Take a look at any outdoor gear that might have seeds stuck to it. You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to place your backpack down while resting on the trail and accidentally picking up some seeds! Whenever I bring my tent home, I check the bottom tarp for any stray bits of debris and dispose of them.

Know Your Invasives

Thank you for learning about Ventenata! It’s important to be aware of the threats facing our favorite natural areas so that we can all be good stewards of the places we love. Want to help others in your community learn about this species?

As part of NAISMA’s “Know Your Invasives” campaign, an exclusive Ventenata t-shirt is on sale for a limited time to help raise awareness about this invasive species. Every t-shirt sold helps to support NAISMA’s work to prevent the spread of invasive species. Plus, you unlock a free year of professional membership with NAISMA when you purchase a shirt!

Visit the NAISMA shop to buy a t-shirt:

Together, we can help to prevent the spread of Ventenata grass and protect our native ecosystems.

Happy Trails,

Steward hand-written signature in black on white

Sponsored by:

Colorado Department of Agriculture, Montana Department of Agriculture, and Nevada Department of Agriculture 

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