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Grasses at a Glance 2022

bunches of orange grasses standing out from the green foliage behind it

Identifying Broomsedge in fall and winter

As we enter December, you’re likely not thinking about going outside to work on your grass identification skills. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good time to pay attention to grasses! Certain grasses stand out during the dormant seasons of the year for one reason or another, and over the...
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landscape view of turkeyfoot seed heads of Big Bluestem

Illinois’ state grass: Big Bluestem

Most pictures and drawings of the tallgrass prairie feature one grass – Big Bluestem. This grass is a quintessential prairie grass that once covered Illinois. Also called Turkeyfoot, it’s likely that even if you aren’t familiar with grasses, you’ve seen this one. Today used extensively in prairie...
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closeup of the inflorescence of purpletop

Grasses can be purple?

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...
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clump of Canada wild rye in bloom

Breaking down the rye grasses

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...
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Golden spikelets of River Oats growing in full sun

Identifying River Oats

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...
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patch of giant foxtail, with drooping inflorescences

Comparing the foxtails

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. There are six species of foxtails in Illinois, but three of them are very common, found in every county in Illinois. All...
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close up of the spikelets of side oats grama grass, looking like little red eyelashes

Identifying the Grama Grasses

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...
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grassy edge with gama grass in bloom

What’s growing? A look at Gama Grass

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...
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raceme inflorescence of gama grass

Looking closer at grass flowers

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...
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