Mystery Grass

Grasses are notoriously difficult to identify; nonetheless, this one is unusual enough that I hope someone out there can identify this grass.

It occurs in Albemarle County, on loop “L” at the Ivy Creek Natural Area and can get quite tall (over 6 feet). It has cane like stems with most of the leaves at the base of the plant, and few leaves on the stem itself. It has relatively broad blades (1 inch plus). It also has a distinctive long compact seed head with with fluffy airborne seeds. It reminds me of Saccharum giganteum, except the seed head is more translucent, and it grows in more upland dry areas. When back lit the seed heads seem to glow. It typically grows in colonies, but seems to be fairly uncommon and distinctive. The photographs you see are of a seed head I collected in Nelson county, of what I believe is likely the same species.
– Lonnie Murray

3 thoughts on “Mystery Grass

  1. Anonymous says:

    I do believe that's probably it! The USDA Plants site for that species even demonstrates the backlit phenomena that I mentioned.

    Well, that's interesting to me that I had the right genus… I suppose I should learn to follow my instincts and go from there! We've also decided that our grass identification book was woefully inadequate. Any suggestions?

  2. T. Russell says:

    I spent a fair amount of time last year trying to learn grasses, without getting very far for all the time and energy expended. They're tough, and one of the compounding problems is that very few people can give you any assistance. A second is that there are no really good field guides. Books that I have that proven helpful are:
    -Agnes Chase's First Book of Grasses

    -Edward Knobel's Field Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, and Rushes of the United States

    -H. D. Harrington's How to Identify Grasses and Grasslike Plants

    -Lauren Brown's Grasses: An Identification Guide.

    The latter three are all available in relatively inexpensive paperbacks, and each is useful within its limitations. I quickly found that a microscope is necessary to distinguish many of the species. Once you pick up the skills and terminology to ID grasses from the books listed above, you actually need something like the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas to deal with most of the species you're trying to key out, and even then it's a struggle.

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