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Comprehensive Description

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Description

This native perennial grass is 1-2' tall and tufted at the base with erect to widely spreading culms. Each culm has 3-4 alternate leaves; it is unbranched, light green to light tan, glabrous, and mostly hidden by the sheaths. The leaf blades are 3-8 mm. across and up to 10" long; they are medium green, ascending to widely spreading, and usually hairless (except near the base of the blade). The leaf sheaths are open, rather loose, and more or less hairy. However, sometimes the upper sheaths are hairless. Each ligule consists of a ring of long white hairs; these hairs are conspicuous at the junction of each blade and sheath. The inflorescence is up to 15" long and 12" across, globoid-ovoid in overall shape, and larger than the rest of the plant; it consists of an airy panicle of spikelets with widely spreading branches. Along the central axis (rachis) of this panicle, there are whorls of 3 branches, which divide into smaller branches. At each whorl along the central axis, there is a small tuft of hair. Sometimes smaller tufts of hair can be found where the branches divide into smaller branches. These branches are very slender and somewhat stiff. Individual spikelets occur on slender pedicels; these pedicels are usually longer than the spikelets. The spikelets are about 4-7 mm. long, 1.5 mm. across, and flattened; they are pale purple to bright purple when the florets bloom, but later become light tan. Each spikelet consists of a pair of glumes and 5-15 lemmas in two columnar ranks. The lemmas are 1.5–2.0 mm. long, ovate, folded along their keels, and 3-veined. The glumes are lanceolate, folded along their keels, and a little shorter than the lemmas. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early fall. At maturity, the entire inflorescence can become detached and blow about in the wind, thereby distributing the seeds. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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