Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)

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Sideoats grama (Source: NRCS Plant Materials Center,

caption Sideoats grama. Photo Missouri Prairie Foundation

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) is a C4 perennial bunch grass. It is a mid-height grass with thin, long, simple leaves. It has a very distinct inflorescence: a zigzag stalk with evenly spaced spikes that typically hang to one side. Thus receiving its name “sideoats” because the inflorescence spikes will hang off one side of the stalk. Bouteloua curtipendula is a warm season plant that is blueish-green in the spring, and reddish-brown in the fall.  B. curtipendula can be found in almost all areas of the United States, and it is the state grass of Texas.


Sideoats grama has a wide distribution in North America, ranging from southern Canada to Mexico and from the western US to the east coast.  Sideoats grama is one of the most widely spread members of its genus.  

caption Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2013. Taxonomic Data Center. ( Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2013. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]
County distribution map of Bouteloua curtipendula. Find the color key here:


Sideoats grama is found in a variety of habitats including dry woodlands, prairies and sandhills, and desert grasslands.  It is an important species in prairies of the Great Plains and is one of the dominant species in mixed-grass prairies.

caption Wind-pollinated flowers of sideoats grama. photo Dropseed Native Plant Nursery

Morphology & Physiology

Bouteloua curtipendula is generally a bunch grass, but it can have a rhizomatous growth form on some occasions.  It grows erect from its root and reaches an average height of three feet.  B. curtipendula has its active growth period in the summer, with a moderate re-growth rate. It is not fire resistant. When the plant is mature it is a yellow color with inconspicuous flowers that are brown.

Growth Requirements

Bouteloua curtipendula is adapted to coarse, fine, and medium textured soils. B. curtipendula has a medium tolerance to calcium carbonate in soil. It has a medium fertility requirement for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium required for normal growth and development. It has a medium drought tolerance. B. curtipendula’s ability to re-sprout and regrow from residual seed after a fire is low. B. curtipendula can handle a minimum pH of 5.5 and maximum of 8.5. It can survive on six inches of rainfall; the maximum amount of rainfall it can tolerate is 25 inches. The shallowest that its roots will grow is 12 inches, and it cannot tolerate shade. The lowest temperature that it can survive in is -43 °F.


Bouteloua curtipendula blooms the most in late spring, producing flowers that are pollinated by the wind. The awned seeds of sideoats grama are probably dispersed short distances by the wind.  Sideoats grama seedlings grow faster than most other prairie species that have been studied and they are more tolerant of drought than many other warm-season grasses, perhaps because of their high root:shoot ratio.

Sideoats grama may reproduce asexually by producing rhizomes and tillers in some populations.  



Scientific Classification

Kingdom:---- Plantae
Subkingdom:--- Tracheobionta  Superdivision:--- Spermophyta  Division:-------- Magnoliophyta   Class:-------- Liliopsida           Subclass:----------Commelinidae      Order:---Cyperales                      Family:--- Poaceae                       Genus:---- Bouteloua                 Species:--------- Bouoteloua curtipendula (Michx.) Torr.


Bouteloua curtipendula is mainly used as animal fodder material, but it is also sometimes used as landscaping stock. Its medium protein content makes it moderately palatable for browse animals, and highly palatable for grazing animals.


Bouteloua curtipendula is one of the most important range grass species. This is because of its high quality and nutritious forage to all classes of livestock throughout the summer and fall.


Elk graze on B. curtipendula year round, while deer and antelope graze on the grass while it is green.  Some birds feed on sideoats grama seeds.

Erosion Control

Bouteloua curtipendula was used in the recovery of grasslands after the drought of the 1930’s. It has adapted to grow in most types of soils, but it most successfully seeded in rocky, stony, or shallow soil sites. When mixed with other native plants it is a good solution for erosion control.

Historic Uses

Native American Indians used dried stalks of sideoats grama to make brooms and hairbrushes.  Many Native American tribes cherished Bouteloua curtipendula because of its resemblance to a row of feathers hanging along the edge of an Indian lance. In the Kiowa tribe, warriors would wear B. curtipendula if they had killed a member of an enemy tribe by lance. The Apache considered the plant important and used it in many ceremonies. The most common myth among the Native American culture is when Child-of-the-Water used a B. curtipendula to slay the giants that were attacking humans.
caption Sideoats grama. photo by Benny Simpson, Native Plant Society of Texas

Sideoats Grama in Texas

Ranching is one of the largest industries in Texas, which relies on its native grasses of the rangelands to nourish the livestock. Bouteloua curtipendula is an important plant for the ranching industry, and it can be found in most areas of the state because of its ability to survive in many different types of soils. All classes of livestock and wildlife forage on this plant because of its high quality of nutrients. It is one of the most attractive grasses and is extremely drought-resistant.

Bouteloua curtipendula is being used in the restoration of many eroded grasslands, and it is a great grass for all conservation purposes because it mixes well with other native grasses.  Because of its beauty, forage value, and sustainability purposes, Bouteloua curtipendula was named the State Grass of Texas by the Texas Senate in 1971.

References and further reading



This article was written by a student at Texas Tech University participating in the Encyclopedia of Earth's Student Science Communication Project. The project encourages students in undergraduate and graduate programs to write about timely scientific issues under close faculty guidance. All articles have been reviewed by internal EoE editors and by independent experts on each topic.







Thibodeaux, S. (2014). Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) . Retrieved from


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