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Native Plants

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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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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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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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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