Identification & Biology
Alias' : Downy brome, speargrass, downy chess, early chess, drooping brome, downy cheat, slender chess, downy bromegrass, military grass, broncograss, Mormon oats
Latin Name : Bromus tectorum L.
Category : Terrestrial Plants
Description :
  • Winter annual grass, mature plants are 10-75cm tall  
  • Erect and slender green stems  
  • Leaves are light green and hairy 
  • Flower heads (paniclesappear soft and feathery  
  • Changes colour from green to purple to brown as the plant matures and dries  
  • Spikelets are 2-5 cm long 
  • Seedlings are distinguished by hairy leaf blades and sheaths 


A winter annual that can germinate in fall or spring. Seeds mature about 2 months later. Because cheatgrass grows throughout fall and winter, by the time the rain stops in spring, cheatgrass seeds are already maturing. Plant heads appear in late April to early May, followed by flowering within a week and seeds mature in mid to late June. Cheatgrass can produce up to 450 kg of seeds /ha. Seeds are dispersed short distances by wind, but the seed heads (awns) can attach to fur and clothing. Unlike native bunchgrasses, cheatgrass then dies by the end of July, avoiding the hottest and driest part of summer. This gives it an advantage over native grasses.  

 Cheatgrass is similar to Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus), also an invasive species, and  poverty brome (Bromus sterilis).  Poverty brome can be differentiated from cheatgrass based on the branching. Poverty brome has simple branching, while cheatgrass always has compound branches. Japanese brome can be differentiated by its twisted and bent awns.  North Africa Grass (Ventena dubia), also originating from Eurasia, can also be mistaken for cheatgrass. It has spreading or drooping flower heads, but the spikelets have only three florets and the awns are very tiny, 1-3 mm long. 

Look Alikes

The native range of cheatgrass encompasses much of Europe, the northern rim of Africa and southwestern Asia. In BC, cheatgrass grows at low to mid elevations in the grasslands and dry forests of the Interior. It has invaded most of the grasslands and low elevation forests in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. It is most widespread in sagebrush steppe and bunchgrass communities of the Okanagan-Similkameen where it often dominates large acreages of rangeland. It is also common in dry ponderosa pine forests. Cheatgrass thrives on open dry sites where soils have been disturbed. It is particularly prevalent along trails, roadsides, abandoned fields, burned areas and sites heavily grazed by livestock or wildlife. 

Impact & Risks
  • Cheatgrass can invade and negatively impact winter wheat and other crops.   
  • Seed heads (awns) can injure livestock by getting into animals’ eyes and mouths.  
  • For pets, dogs in particular, the seeds can lodge themselves in paws and ears and can burrow through their skin resulting in both internal and surface abscesses. 
  • It can maintain dominance for many years on sites where the native plant community has been eliminated or severely reduced by grazing, cultivation or fire. 
  • When dry, cheatgrass is extremely combustible and can represent a major fire hazard. 
Prevention & Mitigation
  • Maintain your crops and natural lands in a healthy, vigorous condition to ensure a competitive plant community. Competitive perennial grasses and forbs utilize water and nutrients that would otherwise be readily available to cheatgrass. 
  • Regularly patrol your property for cheatgrass plants and immediately control or remove infestations before seed set.   
  • Cooperate with adjacent landowners and encourage them to prevent cheatgrass spread.  
  • Immediately re-vegetate disturbed, bare soils with a suitable seed mixture that provides dense, early colonization to prevent invasion.    
Treatment & Disposal
  • Repeated mowing every 3 weeks during spring and summer can be effective at managing seed production. 
  • Hand pulling can be effective for small infestations if done before seed-set. Seed disturbed areas to perennial grasses to provide competition.  
  • Controlled livestock grazing can help regulate cheatgrass, as long as it is grazed before seed-set as the awns can irritate livestock. 
  • Chemical control is also an option. Before applying herbicides, read the label for full use and precautionary instructions.   
  • For further information on the selection and application of chemicals to protect your crop, contact Agri Service BC at 1-888-221-7141 or email 
Okanagan Distribution

Priority Level Definitions

Watch For - Poses a significant threat (very high risk) and does NOT presently occur in the region OR is relatively new to the region and is very limited in extent.
High - High risk/impact; limited population with significant potential to spread in the region.
Medium - Medium risk/impact; limited distribution – broader population distribution with potential to spread further in a region.
Low - Low risk/impact; may be widespread or not, may be of concern in specific situations with certain high values – e.g. specific agriculture crops. Some species may be treated primarily with biological control agents.