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Friday, June 1, 2012

Grasses in flower—AH-CHOO!!

The Berry Prairie is covered in flowers right now! But--they’re not all large and showy. 

Three-quarters of the plants on the Prairie are grasses, so when they bloom, as some are right now, they account for a large proportion of the garden. Sandberg’s bluegrass has been flowering for a couple of weeks, while Indian ricegrass and prairie junegrass are just beginning. Some of these plants are knee-high, and their abundant stalks wave constantly in the (incessant, never-ending) breeze, making the Prairie look as much like water as land.

Sandberg's bluegrass flowers

Indian ricegrass flowers

Junegrass flowers
Grasses are flowering plants (unlike conifers or ferns), with some very floriferous “cousins,” like lilies, orchids and irises. But the grass family long ago traded the security of specialized pollinators for the vagaries of wind pollination, and now hangs its reproductive organs out from much reduced flowers, whose purpose is structural support for anthers and seed, and not to be attractive.    

Yet, to the discerning eye, flowering grasses are attractive. And successful. Given the ceaseless wind of prairies, it seems the grasses made a prudent trade. So, keep watching—this is only the first wave; there are many more species of grass still to bloom this summer.

Written and photos by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center

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