Foxtail or squirreltail barley is featured once again on BPotD, though from a different perspective (previous entries: Hordeum jubatum seed, Rumex crispus and Hordeum jubatum, and close-ups of Hordeum jubatum).
Heavy spring rains in the high desert of south-central Oregon likely contributed to an excellent year for Hordeum jubatum. The saltscrub flats where this species is the dominant vegetation would have been inundated with water, forming ephemeral alkali lakes. By the time I visited the area in early July, most of these lakes had evaporated, leaving behind robust numbers of foxtail barley — one of the few plants that can tolerate these alkaline desert environments. I suppose it could be called a facultative halophyte — a species that tolerates (or thrives) in alkaline environments, but can be found growing in other soil environments. The ability of Hordeum jubatum to withstand extreme conditions, though, contributes to it having a widespread distribution in North America and northeast Asia (and, naturalize elsewhere in the world).
There are many other links to peruse from previous entries on this species, so I’ll instead make a few miscellaneous natural history comments about Lake County, Oregon, where these photographs were made. Firstly, Lake County was the site of discovery (in 1938) of the world’s oldest shoes (at the time). Found in Fort Rock cave, these sagebrush-bark sandals helped push back the date of first-known human inhabitation of western North America by several thousand years to ~9500-10500 years before-present. Subsequent discoveries of other evidence suggest much older dates of human settlement in North America.
Another tidbit is that Lake County and adjacent Harney County contain the only known sites of Oregon sunstone (images). During my return trip to the area planned for next year, I intend to go gem-hunting.