Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Grasses Part 2

It's been a couple years since I did a grass post. Time for another. This is a continuation of the post entitled Pass the Grass. Click on that link to see the others. I have updated that post with a number of new pics. There will be a variety of species listed here, but with the help of Lynn Holtzman once again, we will concentrate on species used in grassland management plans. There are a lot of "varieties" found in the species mentioned here, but discussing all the varieties is beyond the scope of this post.

Rye grasses are one of those groups often referred to as 'grains'. Our Rye bread comes from a species in a different genus than these. Ryes in general have long bristly awns coming off the seeds, sort of like porcupine quills. This one is Canada Wild Rye, Elymus canadensis. Of the three species I'm covering, it has the longest spiked awns.

Another good character to look for are the drooping heads. They tend to curve downward much more than other Ryes.

Canada Wild Rye can be found on prairie sites or form large patches on any disturbed ground.

Virginia Wild Rye Elymus virginicus, has shorter bristles than Canada, and the heads are more compact. The floral spike is more erect, with very little droop.

Here is a comparison of the two. Virginia on the left, Canada on the right.

A third species common in our area is Riparian RyeElymus riparius. The seed head here is midway in size between the previous two. Without using size measurements, another way to look at it is, it doesn't curve downward, nor stand erect. It has the appearance of being bent sideways. Another similar looking, half-bent Rye, is E. villosus, the Silky Rye. Its sheaths are all hairy, Riparian is glabrous.

If visual identification is still confusing, consider the habitat. It's called Riparian Rye because it is found in bottomland hardwood forests. It will grow in an open or closed canopy. Identifying it can still be tricky as it hybridizes with the other ryes, especially Virginia.


If you think it may be a hybrid, or the floral spike isn't fully developed, there is one other thing to check out. Although not often mentioned in the literature, Lynn has found the leaf very reliable for narrowing down what you have. Look for zig-zag stitching or zipper marks across the width of the leaf blade.

Here's a plant often overlooked because it is so small! Side Oats Grama, Bouteloua curtipendula. This is a prairie species that blooms a rich brown in color, but by the time it turns tan, the other grasses have grown up over it. Look near the ground to find it. The seeds resemble oats, and the spikelets hang down on one side or the other of the plant in neat little rows.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is this large growing prairie grass known as Eastern Gama Grass, Tripsacum dactyloides. Flower heads are very elongate and branch into threes. This is the Sasquatch Bigfoot of all the turkey-foot grasses.

You can see the Big Bluestem growing tall and straight throughout this prairie plot. Nestled in the middle is Eastern Gama. It grows in outward spreading clumps or patches, and has wider leaves. Gama Grass was once an important component mix with Big Blue, Switch, and Indian Grass. Plowing up prairies and overgrazing has reduced its numbers.


The seeds of Eastern Gama are large and arranged one on top of another, like they were glued together. It kind of reminds me of the buttons on a rattlesnake. This is a cool season grass.

The seeds easily break apart and look somewhat like kernels of corn. Research shows they may be an ancient ancestor to our modern field corn Zea mays. At the very least, they are distantly related.


Geese honk and ducks quack. This rhizome spreading plant is known as Quack Grass, Elytrigia repens. It was introduced from Europe many years ago, and is common throughout the state. The flower heads are in a narrow spike and are unbranching. The seeds or spikelets alternate sides of the stem and are sessile. The leaves clasp the stem.


Another plant with distinctly clasping leaves is Deer Tongue, Panicum clandestinum. This is one of the many Panic Grasses found in our area. It will form clumps in open areas. Because of the wide leaves, it looks more like some type of wildflower than a grass.

Deer Tongue has a very short blooming time. The seed head is sparse and inconspicuous. These seed heads are quick to fall off, and most plants will look like the first two photos. The stem of the plant is smooth.

Looking at this photo, it doesn't appear to have smooth stems, but these hairs actually belong to the rolled up sheaths and not the stem. The texture of the leaf led to the common name.

One of the most noticeable plants in empty fields is Broomsedge, Andropogon virginicus. The tan or straw colored plants from the previous year persist even as the new green shoots pop up the following year. This is most often confused with Little Blue Stem Grass, which I discuss in the other grass post. Little Blue has a mix of red and green stems, and the seeds puff out of the stem and arch away from the plant. Broomsedge seeds stay closer, more tucked into the main stem.

Click on the blue arrows and you'll see the leaf sheaths growing upright and extending past the seeds. The arrow on the left shows an example of the seed heads remaining tucked in the sheath. The arrow on the right shows the tall sheaths with the seed head falling out.
If you unfold the new growth leaves, you will see the edges are lined in long silky or silvery hairs. Sometimes Broomsedge shows a slight red and green look as Little Bluestem does, but these hairs will serve to separate the two.

Grasses that hang down and appear to have an inverted V shape to the seed heads are a good indication you may have a Brome Grass.

You're looking at Downy Brome, Bromus pubescens. This species blooms earlier in June, so by August and September the plant has turned all brown.


Here are a couple of early summer shots of Downy still closed, and just beginning to bloom.


Downy Brome is a woodland species and not used much in wildlife management plans. The seed heads are widely scattered along the stem. Other common names include Canada Brome and Woodland Brome. This Downy Brome is not the same species as the western Cheatgrass.

Smooth Brome Bromus inermis, is an introduced species from Europe, and has been used a lot in fields and pastures for forage and hay production. When it first comes up it grows erect and then leans over with age. Smooth Brome has been used extensively in Pheasant management. It can be aggressive and take over a field. In a managed situation, it tends to stay where it's planted, but in some states it's considered invasive when not controlled.

The bromes generally have the look of being 'wind swept', as if the seeds have all been blown to one side. That's Downy Brome to the left with its widely spreading seed heads. Smooth Brome on the right has a more compact, clustered flowering head.


Tall narrow stems that appear bare except at the very top, may be an indication of Orchard Grass, Dactylis glomerata. This is a cool season grass introduced from Europe. It appears all white here because it is an early spring plant. It is shade tolerant, so it does well when planted with other species.

Orchard Grass generally produces compact, single seed heads with little branching along the stem. From a distance one might say they look like a bunch of wet Q-tips stuck together. In other words, there is no one simple way to describe the seed heads. During the spring when it's green, it may look more like a sedge.


These alternate, rather wide leaves, that stair-step up the stem is what you'll notice first. Growing at 45 degree angles, this strongly V shaped form belongs to Reed Canary Grass, Phalaris arundinacea. Superficially there is a resemblance to Deer Tongue, but the hairy sheaths on the stem are absent. This species was introduced to Ohio from the western states. It's common in wet areas, and has been used in erosion control projects. It's highly invasive, so if planted, it needs to be controlled.

Reed Canary has a rather tall ligule membrane. That's the white portion in the center. It looks to me like someone stuck a straw between the leaf blade and stem.


This post has tended to have more natives early on, and introduced species mentioned in the latter portion. This is Sheep Fescue, Festuca ovina, a European species. Another reoccurring theme, these early spring, cool season grasses all appear white or tan because these are late summer pictures.

This species isn't used much for wildlife management. It was brought in as a turf grass for abandoned pasture lands. For identification, I just think of Sheep. Each seed on the head seems cramped together and sticking out in every direction, like a fleece in need of shearing.



Okay, how about a quiz?  Ha Ha, and you thought I was done. These are selections from both posts, so read the other one first before quizzing.

1)

2)
3)
4)
Okay, I know, looks like a half busted spider web. Try the closeup next.
5)
6)
7)
8)
9) General Answer




1) Canada Wild Rye & Bottlebrush
2) Wooly Brome & Bottlebrush
3) Crabgrass
4) Little Bluestem
5) Prairie Three-awn
6) Purple Top & Foxtail
7) Redtop
8) Paspalum sp.
9) Panic Grass, Panicum sp.

3 comments:

  1. Great post, Dennis! Worthy of a bookmark and continued use as an ID guide for many.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Once again, I thank for the help on tonites grassland quiz!!

    -Garrett Russell

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey nice page...but Tripsacum is not a cool season grass.

    ReplyDelete