Russian wildrye (Psathyrostachys junceus) was introduced to Canada from Siberia in 1926. It is a long-lived perennial bunch grass adapted to semiarid climates. The leaves of Russian wildrye are mostly basal and it is best adapted to pasture use. The seed stalks are 60-120 cm (24 to 48 inches) tall and seed is formed in a dense spike.
Russian wildrye is adapted to the Brown, Dark Brown and even Black soil zones. It has been generally used for pasture in the northern regions of the Great Plains. It is most easily established and is most productive on loam and clay loam soils. Sandy soils may dry out before the seedling is self-sustaining.
Russian wildrye is very productive in seep areas and tolerates moderate salinity. As a seedling, Russian wildrye does not compete well with invading weeds. Because russian wildrye maintains its forage quality even when mature, it makes much better summer and fall pasture than crested wheatgrass.
The forage may be grazed late into the fall and winter and livestock will do well on it.
Swift Russian wildrye is the most readily available variety. It was selected by depth of seeding studies and may be more tolerant of deep seeding than previous varieties. It does not develop any faster than older varieties.
Mayak is also available.
Tetracan is the newest variety in Canada. It is the first tetraploid variety of Russian wildrye and has twice the chromosome number of Swift and Mayak. This is reflected in larger seed, bigger heads and wider leaves than the other varieties. It may have more seedling vigor.
Results of tests conducted by the Saskatchewan Forage Council indicate no large differences among the three varieties for forage yield.