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QRWC’s Executive Director, Frank Maurer, has recently played a major role in launching an initiative to have Nassella pulchra—more widely known as Purple Needlegrass—officially designated as California’s State Grass. This took several years of advocacy, education, and finding supporters for the idea. Ultimately, Senator Mike Machado (D-Linden) authored the bill, with support by Lois Wolk in the Assembly, which was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger in August of 2004. The law went into effect on January 1, 2005.

Why Purple Needlegrass? Here are some reasons:

  • This native perennial grass is a signature species for our state, since it is the most extensive and widespread native grass in California , with a range extending from the California-Oregon border to Baja California.
  • It is a beautiful, hardy and long-lived plant (individual plants live up to 100+ years).
  • Its seed was one of several used by many California Native Americans as a food source.
  • During the period of Mexican ownership of California and the huge cowhide and tallow industry developed by the Mexicans, the grasses of the Central Valley, including Nassella pulchra, were the basis of cattle grazing and subsistence.
  • It is an important food source for many animal species.
  • The deep root systems (6-15 feet) of the grass support the survival of oak seedlings, especially in warmer areas of the state, by maintaining moisture in the soil for the seedlings and by promoting the growth of mychorrhizal fungi, which are important to the health of oaks.
  • As a hardy, drought-resistant plant, Purple Needlegrass is very well suited for xeric (dry) landscapes and for restoration projects.
  • Once established it aids greatly in suppressing the growth and spread of non-native invasive weeds, such as the well-nigh ubiquitous and noxious yellow star thistle.
  • A state grass serves as both a symbol of and a tool for teaching about the natural environment of early California.

With the entry of Nassella pulchra into the pantheon, California now has 30 state symbols. Our state is one of 15 to have so honored a native grass. We feel that more states will follow this lead.

If your curiosity has been piqued, here are the other state symbols relating to native flora and fauna:

Animal: Grizzly Bear (now extinct!)
Bird: California Valley Quail
Fish: California Golden Trout
Flower: Golden Poppy
Fossil: Sabre-toothed Cat
Insect: California Dogface Butterfly
Marine Mammal:      California Gray Whale
Reptile: Desert Tortoise
Tree: California Redwood
(includes Coast Redwood & Giant Sequoia)


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