Follow by Email

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Prairie Underdogs

Everyone goes ga-ga for wildflowers and trees.  And for good reason - they're charismatic and grand, they're relatively easy to tell apart (making us feel better about our plant ID skills), and they possess wonderful aesthetics, making them common subjects of photographs and paintings.  

Ooh la la, look at those pretty flowers in the Tetons!

But who roots for the grasses?  (Ha! Get it?)  How many of us look at a flowering meadow and exclaim, "Wow, those grasses are GORGEOUS!"?  How often do we buy seed packets of grasses thinking their flowers and foliage will add dimension and character to our gardens? 

Grasses are certainly the underdogs of the native plant club.  To most of us, grasses all look the same.  They don't come in flamboyant colors like mauve and perriwinkle.  They're pretty darn hard to photograph, which is why most grass photos are taken on a scale like this:

Courtesy of

 and not like this:

A moss campion (Silene acualis) blooming in the Berry Prairie

But if we take a closer look, we'll find that grasses DO flower, and their flowers are varied in color, shapes and sizes!  We have seedheads that look like eyebrows, some that look like feathers, some that look like pipecleaners, some that look like stars, some that look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

A bouquet of grass seedheads from the Berry Prairie make an interesting and beautiful collection!

The Berry Prairie's grasses are the primary group of plants flowering right now.

The Berry Prairie is dominated by grasses, which mimics the native prairie around Laramie.  In fact, approximately three-fourths of the plants on the green roof are one of eight species of grasses (plus one species of sedge)! 

As I mentioned earlier, grasses are very difficult to photograph, so the only way for you to see what they look like in a prairie setting is to find a prairie setting.  Lucky for you Laramites, there's one right here in the middle of town, called the Berry Prairie.

Many of the Berry Prairie grasses are now in bloom, come check them out!

If you're interested in grasses, check out Joy Handley's post about "Grasslands of the High Plains" or her piece on "Clustered Field Sedge."  Also take a look at a photo of the beautiful Little Bluestem.

And for your grass ID pleasure, here is an identification key for species found in the Berry Prairie, put together by a UW Botany master's student, Emma Stewart.

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave us your feedback here!