June 21, 2010

Flowering Grasses

The vivid greens of June are now tempered by the tawny flowering heads of the many grasses in the fields and woods. This mass of 6 foot tall grass is vigorously growing near the pond in the moist soil fed by springs.

These finely draped flower heads catch the light, reminding me of a bounty of grain. So much of our food comes from grasses: wheat, rye, barley, rice; even corn, thought of as a vegetable, is a grass. Years ago I read a book on the origins of agriculture and was surprised to see the tiny size of the head of wild corn. It took generations of choosing plants with large grain size to get to the early corns grown in the New World.

The color of this grass flower, like several around this area, is a beautiful burgundy. It has dangling anthers that look like fluttery trinkets, adding to a decorative effect.

The form of this flower is classical in its simplicity. This is likely an early stage of growth, so I will have to observe how it changes as the flower matures. Because for most of us our relationship to grasses are through our cropped lawns, except for the decorative grasses in flower borders we don't often see their flowers. It's good to remember that grasses cover large parts of the earth, including the areas of human origins, and that they have fed us for thousands of years.


  1. your first photo here with the light in the grass - this is what I was thinking about when you wrote about mowing -this ethereal light and movement is so much more sensuous than a -- crew cut.

  2. Such lovely grasses! I love the way grasses gather the light and glow with it. My striped grasses by my "pond" are just heading up. i applaud them each day as they catch the afternoon sun.

  3. I'm glad you both like the images of grasses. They certainly are a beautiful addition to the landscape. But they too need to be cultivated: my fields were more beautifully grassy when I first moved here, because they'd been grazing land, but after years the grasses have been diminished by the incursion of various weeds and ferns.

  4. That does happen -- and you _could_ think of it as biodiversity, rather than weeds. Thank you for reminding me of the beauty of your (and my) big grass, the (insert epithet here) reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) which I spend a lot of time trying to control, and may forget to admire.

  5. hi Susan, thanks as usual for the plant identification. The reed canary grass may be invasive, but here it's in places that are okay for it to spread. It's certainly a grand presence.

  6. And the bottom one is Timothy (Phleum pratense), named for Timothy Hanson, the early 18th c. English farmer who promoted it as a good hay grass. It gets a lavender hazy look when it blooms.
    Reed canary grass is used for thatch in England, I have heard.