Alkali Saltgrass

Distichlis spicata

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General Description

Alkali saltgrass or saltgrass is a native perennial grass, found in saline and alkaline soils across western Canada. It forms a dense, low growing mat with rhizomes (below ground) and stolons (above ground). Salt grass leaves come off short stems at a 45 degree angle. The leaves are 1-3.5 mm wide, smooth or soft-hairy to stiff-hairy on the upper surface. Seed heads are often present.


Native grass.


Native to North America. Found around saline uplands and lowlands.




Reclamation, pasture.

Optimal Time of Use

Summer, fall. Saltgrass is used primary in the reclamation of dry and wet saline areas. Graze salt grass in the fall to avoid hoof damage to the sod. In native stands, salt grass is grazed as the secondary species in the stand.

Recovery After Use

Saltgrass withstands light grazing once per year.

Palatability/Nutritional Value

Saltgrass is seldom grazed if other grasses are available as it is a less preferred, secondary species by cattle and horses. It is noted to have fair nutritional value.

Annual Precipitation min/max (mm)

127mm / 1778mm

Drought Tolerance

Moderate to high tolerance.

Flooding Tolerance

Saltgrass requires 2-5 weeks of spring flooding and/or wet soils throughout the growing season. Intermittent moist periods are favored, however it is uniquely adapted to be drought tolerant and survive through long dry periods.

Winter Hardiness

Excellent hardiness.

Soil Texture Preference

Salt grass will only grow on saline or alkaline soils with specific moisture regime. It is adapted to all soil zones.

Erosion Control

In moist saline areas, salt grass sod is useful in the prevention of water erosion.

Salinity Tolerance

Excellent tolerance.

Acidity Tolerance

Not tolerant of acidic soils.

Alkalinity Tolerance

Good tolerance.

Seeds per kg

1,143,000 seeds/kg (519,000 seeds/lb)

Suggested Mixtures

Saline tolerant native grasses.

Ease of Establishment

Saltgrass seed is not commonly available. Establishment from seed is best under hot, moist conditions. Saltgrass can be grown from rhizome (root) cuttings that are planted shallow in warm, moist conditions. This is the most common and easier method of establishment.


Saltgrass forms a thick sod.

Management Considerations

Graze late in the season to maintain plant vigor and reduce hoof damage. Saltgrass is a low growing native grass for saline areas.

Saskatchewan Dryland Forage Species Adaptation Tool, E-Flora BC Atlas, USDA Plants Database

Alkali saltgrass is commonly found in plant communities on Solonetzic soils (high soduium) or near salt producing closed basin ponds and surrounding flats in the Bunchgrass and Interior Douglas-fir zones in the southern part of the region. Suitability is limited to these site types.

Alkali saltgrass is commonly found in plant communities on Solonetzic soils (high soduium) or near salt producing closed basin ponds and surrounding flats in the Bunchgrass, Ponderosa Pine and Interior Douglas-fir zones. Suitability is limited to these sites.

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