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Tough grass grows in Yellowstone hot spots
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Tough grass grows in Yellowstone hot spots

Bentgrass loves Yellowstone

Friday marks the first day of the new year — happy 2021!

January is also the coldest month of the year. In northeastern Montana near Glasgow the average low temperatures in January are around 2 degrees. The Flathead region is much warmer, about 22 degrees for an average low temperature.

In comparison, the average high temperature in Yellowstone National Park in January is 28 degrees with the low about 3 degrees. Brrr!

Considering how cold it can get in January, it’s amazing that green blades of Ross’s bentgrass can sometimes be found in parts of Yellowstone. To grow during such cold weather, the grass has figured out how to live near geyser basins, those places in the park where hot water boils to the surface. Even with that ability, the grass is very picky about where it can live. It is only found along the Firehole River and Shoshone Geyser Basin. The plant has been found on less than 12 acres of land, total.

These few places in Yellowstone are the only ones in the world where Ross’s bentgrass grows. When a plant or animal is found nowhere else it is called endemic – meaning they only live in a certain place. Two other rare plants are also endemic to the park – Yellowstone sand verbena and Yellowstone sulfur wild buckwheat.

Ross’s bentgrass is pretty short, only growing to a height of about 8 inches. It flowers in May and early June and then dries out and dies as the soil temperature gets hotter.

The grass likes to live in the cracks and walls of hot springs. These places can create an almost greenhouse-like environment during the winter, flowing with warm moist air. Surprisingly, only an inch below the surface the temperature may be as hot as 100 degrees.

The main threats to Ross’s bentgrass come from invasive plants that are not native to the area, like cheat grass, bluegrass and chickweeds.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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