1. Published

    While driving from one end of Illinois to the other and back this past week, I enjoyed seeing the abundance of Indiangrass carpeting the median strips. The blue-green foliage is topped with golden-orange panicles of smooth, soft spikelets. Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) is one of my favorite grasses to teach others to identify, because it has so many distinctive characteristics. Let’s take a look.

  2. Published

    While driving to work today, I scanned the sides of the road to see what grasses are in bloom. I was happy to see large patches of a grass with purple inflorescences. These dark purple grass spikelets belong to Purpletop (Tridens flavus). Ah, a common name that accurately describes the grass! I love when that happens. While you may not have heard of Purpletop, you may recognize this plant by one of its other common names – Grease Grass. Why is it called that? And how can you identify it?

  3. Published

    I’m sure many of us have been hiking in the woods and been able to make general plant identifications – I know that’s a maple over there, here’s an oak, that’s definitely a hickory. But what about taking the next step to find out which type of maple, oak, or hickory? Getting an identification down to the species level can be tricky in some cases, especially when there are a lot of plants that are closely related to one another (like the 20 oak species in Illinois!).

  4. Published

    Today while visiting one of the food donation gardens I manage, I stopped by our sensory garden to see what was blooming. Finding plants for a sound garden is challenging, but we added in some native grasses, as they create a pleasant rustling sound when a breeze flows through the leaves. The grass we chose to add is River Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium. I was happy to see it in bloom today.

  5. Published

    As we reach mid-July, the foxtail grasses have started to flower. Named for the appearance of their spike inflorescences, these grasses are easy to pick out from the crowd.

  6. Published

    One of my favorite grasses started blooming during this past week – Side Oats Grama. I planted some in my garden last fall and am thrilled to see it blooming. Side Oats Grama is one of four grama grasses that can be found in Illinois, and by far the most common. The other three look much more like one another than they do Side Oats Grama.  

    What does grama mean? Grama comes from the Latin word grāmen, which means grass. The grama grasses (now that's a bit redundant isn't it?) belong to the genus Bouteloua, which is a fun Latin name to pronounce.

  7. Published

    I spent a lot of time exploring restored grasslands during grad school while collecting data for my research. I had become familiar with the most common grasses in the area, but one day I ran across something that didn't look super familiar. I didn’t know what to think at first, because it looked like a mutant version of Big Bluestem, with a turkey foot-shaped flower cluster that was much bigger than it should have been - about 7 inches - rather than 2 inches!

  8. Published

    When you are at the plant nursery, have you ever noticed that plants often have two names listed on the tag? One is a common name, such as Switchgrass. The other is the scientific name, in Latin, Panicum virgatum. Why the two names? Is just knowing the common name okay?

    Time for a quiz

    Pictured above from left to right are Broomsedge, Little Bluestem, and Big Bluestem. If I asked you to choose which two you thought were most closely related, based on the pictures and names alone, what would be your choice?

  9. Published

    With warmer weather and spring rains, grasses have begun to grow. Looking around my yard, my lawn grasses are rapidly greening up, some even flowering between our routine mowing. Other grasses in my landscaping are just starting to put out new leafy growth. Why the difference in growth rates?

  10. Published

    When I hike in the woods during the spring, I’m always excited to see my favorite spring ephemerals in bloom. I can recognize Celandine Poppy by the sunshine yellow flowers with four petals, Yellow Trout Lily by the recurved, yellow petals forming an upside-down cup, and Pawpaw by the maroon colored flowers seen when looking up in the forest.

  11. Published

    What do you see when you look at a grass? Green leaves in a bunch? The cause of your allergies? A plant that constantly needs to be mowed?

  12. Published

    I never thought I’d be called “the grass lady.” When I started getting into plant identification, I too looked at grasses as a group of plants that only the best of the best could identify – and that was most definitely not me.