Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Friendly Approach to Grasses, Part 1

The commonest, humblest, and most economically important plant group for mankind is the grasses. As we have seen these evolved in the same monocotyledon branch as lilies.

In  Grasses, An Identification Guide, Lauren Brown points out that all grasses and their close relatives - Graminoids - are wildflowers. She admits that the cognoscenti of their blooms and structures is but a small set of our population. She wants to set us on the road to appreciating their beauty by cutting through the tangles of nomenclature.

Lauren's method of presentation steers clear of botanical key systems and the anatomical distinctions that center on the (tiny) individual flowers. She organizes and illustrates for us amateurs. The book deserves its popularity.
As a consequence of this intuitive-visual approach  Ms. Brown includes certain non-Graminoids that the average person might consider grassy-looking. Camera in hand I searched Halibut Point for the Graminoid outliers.
Typha latifolia, Common cat-tail
Common cat-tails are at their most robust right now. One secluded colony sheltered a red-wing blackbird family in the spring.

Typha angustifolia, Narrow-leaved cat-tail
A more slender version of the cat-tail also grows at Halibut Point.

Plantago lanceolata, English plantain
Members of the Plantain family also suggest grasses. Similarities may occur in either the leaves or in flower stems. Most children have woven garlands or lariats from English plantains that pop up in lawns between mowings.
English plantain flower, magnified
However a careful examiner will note the structural differences that make plantains dicotyledons rather than monocots.

Plantago major, Common plantain
This distinction is more readily apparent in the broad reticulate leaves of Common plantain.

Plantago aristata, Bracted plantain
Out on the Halibut Point Overlook a profusion of grassy-looking plants carpets the gravel in spring.

Flowers of Bracted plantain
Minute flowers eventually make clear that these cannot be placed in the Graminoid category.

Plantago maritima, Seaside plantain
In a marvel of adaptability the Plantain family sports a member at the shore line. You can find Seaside plantain tucked among the rocks just above the tide, looking very grassy indeed.

Equisetum pratense, Meadow horsetail
The final grassy look-alike presented in Lauren Brown's guide is the horsetail, which bears spores rather than flowers and is more closely related to ferns than grasses. This plant was growing in the type of damp shady area that favors many ferns.

We'll continue this topic nest week with a gallery overview of the Graminoids themselves.

1 comment:

  1. lots of memories from the 50's & 60's growing up and living at the pier at Folly Cove. swimming at the quarry and helping Dr. Webster cut rhyough brier making paths along the sea shore.