Skip to main content

Grasses at a Glance blog earns award from national Extension organization

Erin Garret standing next to little bluestem in a garden

URBANA, Ill. — Grasses are a small and often subtle backbone of many ecosystems, making up nearly 30% of the planet’s land cover. They prevent soil erosion, regulate water flow, and provide food and habitat for wildlife and livestock. But ask someone to identify one grass from another, and you will likely be met with a blank stare.

University of Illinois Extension Educator Erin Garrett won an outstanding educational materials award in March for her Grasses at a Glance blog from the Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals. ANREP awards recognize significant achievements and high-quality, innovative outreach programs.

“Grasses can be extremely difficult plants to identify, and this award is a testimonial to Erin’s work creating a blog that helps land managers, farmers, naturalists, and gardeners identify grasses so they can meet their management goals,” said Shibu Kar, Illinois Extension assistant dean of natural resources, environment, and energy.

Garret is an Illinois Extension natural resources, environment, and energy educator for the far southern Illinois counties of Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski, and Union. She learned how to identify native grass species as part of a Grassland Monitoring Team working on a prairie restoration project.

“We were looking for desirable plants as well as red flagging non-native or invasive plants that needed management attention,” Garrett said. “We needed to know if the management work being done was successful, and this required accurate plant identification, which could be tricky, especially with grasses.”

Grass identification is difficult because traits used for other plant identification, such as leaf shape and flowers, do not vary as much between grass species. Garret slowly learned how to identify a rush from a sedge from a grass using identification books and time observing grass in the field.

Starting a blog about grass identification was an opportunity to share her knowledge. The Grasses at a Glance blog launched in April 2022 with two posts a month. Topics include how to identify species, the benefits of including them in the home landscape, growing native species from seed, managing and reporting invasive grasses, and more. Each blog is emailed to a growing list of 1,200 plant enthusiasts who often contact Garrett for identification assistance. In 2023, the blog was viewed 50,000 times by 20,142 people.

Extension staff are frequently recognized for their innovative work, with recent examples including a LinkedIn Top Voice title for agriculture outreach and engagement, a USDA National Excellence in Team Award for helping expand access to fresh produce, and several individual and team awards through the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.

Explore more about grasses at and a series of Grasses at a Glance identification webinars. For more information or assistance with plant identification, connect with a local county Extension office at

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.