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Green lawn grass with fallen leaves

What color is your lawn this fall?

As the days shorten and winter approaches, nature has taken on a bleaker appearance. Deciduous trees have lost their leaves, wildflowers have gone to seed, and many plants have taken on a straw to brown color as their aboveground growth dies for the season. How does your lawn look? One place that...
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infestation of Japanese Stiltgrass

Be on the lookout for invasive grasses

One of the reasons plant identification is so important is to help us tell the difference between plants that contribute to a healthy ecosystem and those that interrupt those interactions. Certain plants are exceptionally good at causing problems for natural communities, and require intervention...
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close up of the flowers of Gama Grass in bloom

Taking a closer look at grass pollination

It’s difficult not to notice grasses at this time of year – all of the large warm-season grasses seem to be in bloom. Have you taken a closer look at grass flowers? They are amazing to see in bloom, when the anthers and stigmas are visible. Grasses, as you may know, are wind pollinated. Unlike...
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Short, clumping grasses planted in a garden

Value of grasses in our managed landscapes

I am making plans to add some new garden beds in my backyard. Starting with a blank slate can be daunting, but there are certain questions I ask myself when considering if a plant makes the cut to go in the garden. Besides matching the growing condition requirements of the plants to the conditions...
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bunch of deer tongue grass on woodland edge

Identifying Deer Tongue Grass

A few weeks ago I was leading a plant identification hike in a restored prairie. Naturally in a prairie system, there are a lot of grasses to identify! We saw some tallgrass species as well as some weedy grasses. We also saw one of the 30+ species of Panic grasses that we have in Illinois, ...
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clump of Tall Fescue

Identifying Tall Fescue

Last week while leading a guided hike through a prairie restoration, I was able to observe numerous species of grasses – both those that are desirable in a restoration, and those that are remnants of previous land uses. While I saw native Prairie Dropseed, Switchgrass, Big Bluestem, and Indiangrass...
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clump of orchard grass in bloom

How to identify Orchard Grass

As we enter May, many cool-season grasses are beginning to flower, which makes them a bit easier to identify. One such grass is a European pasture and hay grass called Orchard Grass, Dactylis glomerata. This non-native grass has been used in agriculture for centuries and can persist in old...
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bunch of a sedge in bloom

Telling apart grasses, sedges, rushes

This time of year, I start getting emails with questions about how to identify grasses that people find growing in their yard. After reviewing pictures, oftentimes the grass they want to know more about actually turns out to be a sedge. Sedges are grass-like plants, but they have some distinct...
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timothy in bloom with other plants in background

Identifying Timothy, a cool-season grass

When I was a kid, we had guinea pigs as pets, Hershey, Graham, and Tristan. One regular part of their diet was hay. Each pig absolutely loved eating the fluffy little grass pieces included in the hay – it turns out those favorite pieces were Timothy. Timothy, Phleum pratense, is a popular...
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Clump of Annual Bluegrass

Annual Bluegrass, a common garden weed

A couple of weeks ago I was working in a food donation garden, prepping raised beds in anticipation of planting early spring crops. Some of the raised beds were covered in weeds that needed to be removed. One of them happened to be Annual Bluegrass, Poa annua. This grass already had an...
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Giant Cane growing in a bottomland forest

Identifying Giant Cane, a native bamboo

Even during the coldest of winter days, one grass continues to boast green foliage – Giant Cane. Giant Cane (Arundinaria gigantea) is a unique grass because it is the only native species of bamboo found in Illinois. Once widespread throughout the bottomland forests of southern Illinois,...
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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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