• Giant Sequoia Trees

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon

    National Parks California

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  • Road Construction Delays on Park Roads for 2014 Season

    Expect occasional 15-minute to 1-hour delays in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks on weekdays only (times vary), including delays to/from the General Sherman Tree, Crystal Cave, and Grant Grove. More »

  • Vehicle Length Limits in Sequoia National Park (if Entering/Exiting Hwy 198)

    Planning to see the "Big Trees" in Sequoia National Park? If you enter/exit via Hwy. 198, and your vehicle is longer than 22 feet (combined length), please pay close attention to vehicle length advisories for your safety and the safety of others. More »

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    We are experiencing technical problems receiving incoming phone calls. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please send us an email to SEKI_Interpretation@nps.gov or check the "More" link for trip-planning information. More »

Velvet Grass

 

Velvet grass (Holcus lanatus) is a perennial grass, native to Europe, that was introduced to California as livestock feed. It escaped from cultivation and has become a weed species, particularly in the California Coast Ranges. In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, it is found in moist meadows and riparian sites in only a few locations, where it establishes dense patches that exclude native vegetation. It has become a particular problem in Yosemite National Park in recent years, forming dominant stands in wilderness locations.

Identification

Velvet grass is a tufted perennial up to 1 meter (3 feet) tall, with closely clustered stems. The entire plant is grayish and velvety, covered with fine, soft hair. Leaves are broad, long, and pointed at the apex, and leaf sheaths are open at the base. Flower panicles, 3 to 6 inches long, are plume-like, dense, pale-green to purplish, and hairy.

 
Distinguishing features of velvet grass are the purplish coloration on the panicles and veins of the sheaths, soft hairs all over, lack of rhizomes, and the second floret of each spikelet, which has a small, curved, hook-like awn.

Distinguishing features of velvet grass are the purplish coloration on the panicles and veins of the sheaths, soft hairs all over, lack of rhizomes, and the second floret of each spikelet, which has a small, curved, hook-like awn.

The Nature Conservancy, UCDavis photo

Look-Alikes

There are numerous grasses, sedges, and related plants that can appear similar to velvet grass. Distinguishing features are the purplish coloration on the panicles and veins of the sheaths, soft hairs all over, lack of rhizomes, and the second floret of each spikelet, which has a small, curved, hook-like awn.

Natural History

The main means by which velvet grass is spread is through seed production. It flowers from June to August and is wind pollinated. Its seed is dispersed in bird droppings, dung, mud, and soil, in which seeds remain viable for over 10 years. Its fibrous roots are relatively shallow.

In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks velvet grass occurs generally in wet areas at mid elevations (5,000 to 7,000 feet elevation, though it may occur lower or higher). It has been detected in meadows in Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, and in wilderness locations in the Kern Canyon (Kern Ranger Station pastures, Lower Funston meadow, and Upper Funston meadow).

Management

In 2006 park staff began controlling velvet grass in wilderness locations in the Kern Canyon, and in 2007 control began in Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Plants are pulled by hand, using small hand-tools to remove the roots. For dense patches in non-wilderness locations, or where velvet grass co-occurs with reed canary grass, approved glyphosate herbicides are sometimes used. A top priority beginning in 2007 is early detection of this species in wilderness locations, particularly those grazed by pack stock.

Did You Know?

Sequoia fire scar.

The large black areas at the base of many sequoia trees are fire scars. Even though fire may eat into the very heart of a sequoia tree, the tree can survive so long as the fire doesn't kill the living tissue all the way around the tree. Over time, the fire scars gradually heal over and disappear.