Twenty-five years ago, in May of 1987, Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) was officially adopted as the state grass of Colorado. The Colorado General Assembly decided to designate a state grass to highlight the economic and ecological importance of grasslands in Colorado. Although it does not receive as much attention as some other ecosystems, the North American prairie is actually one of the most endangered ecosystems on earth. In some areas, up to 99 percent of the prairie has been destroyed in just the last 125-150 years!
Blue Grama in particular is an important resource to both the people and animals of Colorado. As a native bunchgrass, its dense, shallow roots help prevent soil erosion. It’s also a valuable food source for cattle and other livestock. Some Native Americans have also used Blue Grama seeds to make flour for bread or even counted the number of branches growing in a season to predict the weather.
If you would like to find Blue Grama growing in Denver, Bear Creek Park would be an excellent place to start. The large natural area there features a number of native grasses, such as wheatgrass, switchgrass, and little bluestem. Blue Grama stands out for its distinctive shape. You can find it by looking for a grass growing about a foot high with a seed head that resembles person’s eyebrow or set of eyelashes. The seeds also appear slightly purple (not really blue as the name would suggest). Second graders enjoy learning about their state grass on SPREE field trips to Bear Creek Park, although they often remember it as the “silly eyebrow” grass or as Blue Grandma. They also have the chance to scatter a few seeds of their own, so if you see Blue Grama near the Bear Creek it might be the work of a SPREE student!