Ethnobotany of southern California native plants:

Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

deer grass

photo credit: Stan Shebs GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0

Deer grass near Las Vegas, Nevada

Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens)

Deer grass is a densely-tufted, perennial bunch grass found in rocky hillsides and canyons. This monocot favors sandy and well drained soils below 7,000 feet. Its native range extends from southern California to Texas and northern Mexico. However, this plant can now be found all across California. Its possible that the current, widespread colonization of deer grass throughout California is due to Native American propagation.

Deer grass was used extensively by Native Americans in basket making. Hundreds of separate tribes used the deer grass flower stalks (seed stalks) to make coiled baskets.

Deer grass thrives on recently burned land. California tribes regularly burned large areas of land, part of the reason for this was to maintain populations of their favorite plants. These regular fires helped ensure a steady supply of long straight stalks for basketry.

The Zuni people burned deer grass with their plume sticks as a spiritual offering.

winter deer grass

Deer grass in the winter.

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On our main ethnobotany page, we present a clickable list of the southern California native plants that became a part of the culture of Native Americans and early European settlers. These plants were used for medicine, food, shelter, drink, tools and art.


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