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Purple Needlegrass
Stipa pulchra
About Purple Needlegrass (Stipa pulchra) Nurseries Show All Photos Purple needlegrass or purple stipa is native to California, where it occurs throughout the coastal hills, valleys, and mountain ranges, as well as the Sacramento Valley and parts of the Sierra Nevada foothills, and Baja California. It grows in many types of local habitats, including grassland, chaparral, and oak woodland. It grows well on clay and serpentine soils. It is a perennial grass producing tufts of erect, unbranched stems up to a meter tall. The extensive root system can reach 20 feet deep into the soil, making the grass more tolerant of drought. The open, nodding flower cluster is up to 60 centimeters long and has many branches bearing spikelets. The plant produces copious seed, up to 227 pounds per acre in dense stands. The pointed fruit is purple-tinged when young and has an awn up to 10 centimeters long which is twisted and bent twice. The shape of the seed helps it self-bury. Purple needlegrass became the California State Grass in 2004. It is considered a symbol of the state because it is the most widespread native California grass, it supported Native American groups as well as Mexican ranchers, and it helps suppress invasive plant species and support native oaks.

This plant is very easy in the right place, though it can be crowded out and shaded by other more aggressive plants. Reseeds easily.
Plant Description
Plant Type

Max. Height
3.3 ft (1 m)

Max. Width
1.5 ft (0.5 m)




Flower Color

Flowering Season

Native Status

Natural Setting
Site Type
Found in many settings including valley grasslands, openings in chaparral and coastal sage scrub, understory of oak woodlands, on coastal prairie as well as coastal bluffs, terraces, mesas, inland canyons, valleys, foothills, dry meadows, etc.


Elevation ?
-151' - 9884'

Annual Precip. ?
6.5" - 98.2"

Summer Precip. ?
0.14" - 2.52"

Coldest Month ?
25.7° F - 57.6° F

Hottest Month ?
48.6° F - 84.4° F

Humidity ?
0.02 vpd - 36.40 vpd

Soil Description
Found in virtually every type of soil

Soil PH
6.0 - 8.0

Soil Toxicity Tolerance
Tolerates Serpentine Soil, Tolerates Sodic Soil


Cold Tolerance(° F)
Tolerates cold to 5° F

Companion Plants
Potential companion plants include nearly every native shrub. To maintain a true grassland look without shrubs, use geophytes such as Wild Onions (Allium species), Brodiaea species, Mariposa Lilies (Calochortus species) and Dichelostemma species, along with annual wildflowers from seed.

Wildlife Attracted
A diverse native grassland attracts numerous insects, birds and small mammals

Landscaping Information
Ease of Care
Very Easy

Water Requirement ?
Very Low, Low
Extremely Low
Very Low
Moderate - High

Moderately Popular

Max. Summer Water ?
No Summer Water
Keep moist

Propagation ?
Tends to self-sow under favorable conditions.  For propagating by seed: No treatment.

Common uses
Groundcovers, Deer Resistant, Butterfly Gardens

Nursery Availability
Commonly Available

Other Names
Botanical Names
Nassella pulchra

Common Names
Purple Stipa, Purple Tussockgrass

Sources include: Wikipedia. All text shown in the "About" section of these pages is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. Plant observation data provided by the participants of the California Consortia of Herbaria, Sunset information provided by Jepson Flora Project. Propogation from seed information provided by the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden from "Seed Propagation of Native California Plants" by Dara E. Emery. Sources of plant photos include CalPhotos, Wikimedia Commons, and independent plant photographers who have agreed to share their images with Calscape. Other general sources of information include Calflora, CNPS Manual of Vegetation Online, Jepson Flora Project, Las Pilitas, Theodore Payne, Tree of Life, The Xerces Society, and information provided by CNPS volunteer editors, with special thanks to Don Rideout. Climate data used in creation of plant range maps is from PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University, using 30 year (1981-2010) annual "normals" at an 800 meter spatial resolution.

Links:   Jepson eFlora Taxon Page  CalPhotos  Wikipedia  Calflora

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