While no plants are able to survive on the saltpans in the lowest elevation areas of Death Valley, the park has nearly 70 species of grasses that grow from the moist areas of the valley floor up to the highest peaks.

Salt grass and alkali sacaton can be found near the springs and seeps along the low areas of the valley, while Indian rice grass and squirreltail grass grow on the slopes and peaks of the mountain ranges.

Death Valley is also home to rare and endangered grasses, such as the Eureka Valley Dunes grass which is endemic to the park!


Low Elevation & Salt Pans

feathery grass growing amid white crusty salty soils
Salt grass growing in salt-encrusted soils.

NPS/J. Jurado

Salt Grass

Distichlis spicata

This grass is common throughout North America and is found in almost every county of California. It occurs in the lower elevations of Death Valley along the salt pans and springs. The stiff stems have narrow leaves up to 4 inches long. In salty environments these leaves can be covered in a salt crystals that have been excreted from the plant. These grasses have yellow-green flowers, and sometimes pinkish-purple flowers, through the late spring, but spread mainly through their long, tough rhizomes that allow them to cover large areas.


Alkali Sacaton

Sporobolus airoides
This alkaline tolerant grass grows in the areas of Death Valley that retain some amount of water near the surface of the ground, such as Salt Creek, Mesquite Flat, and Saline Valley. It grows upright stems up to 3 feet in height and blooms with yellow flowers in mid-summer. It can be distinguished from Indian rice grass because the seeds are smaller and less distinct.


Mid-Elevation Mountains

tall grass surrounded by sparse shrubs

NPS photo

Indian Rice Grass

Stipa hymenoides
This 1 to 2½ foot tall bunchgrass has leaves that are tightly rolled, giving each leaf the appearance of a long narrow tube. The stems end in an open branching panicle that holds the distinct dark colored seeds used for food by Native Americans in a fashion similar to rice.


Eureka Valley Dune Grass

Swallenia alexandrae
This is a rare species, endemic to the park. It only grows on the isolated Eureka Valley Sand Dunes, and is federally listed as an endangered species in the U.S., and an IUNC criticially endangered species.


Upper Elevation Pinyon-Juniper Woodland


Squirreltail Grass

Elymus elymoides

This species of rye is common west of the Mississippi river. It occurs in ecosystems from alpine forests and desert sage scrub to valley grasslands, but in Death Valley is only found in high elevations. This grass is easily identified by its fluffy tail-like seed head and is found in dry open areas. It has been a popular grass for grazing livestock throughout the western U.S.


James' Galleta

Hilaria jamesii

James' galleta occurs in the Funeral Range, Last Chance Range, and Saline Range in Death Valley. It grows in bunches of thin and tall stems up to 25 inches tall, with long, flat bladed leaves at its base. It produces relatively few seeds and spreads mainly by underground rhizomes.

Last updated: November 29, 2020

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Death Valley, CA 92328


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