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Comprehensive Description

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Description

This native perennial grass forms dense tufts of sprawling leaves about 1-2' tall and 2-3' across. In each tuft, the infertile (flowerless) shoots are more abundant than the fertile (flowering) shoots. One or more flowering culms develop from the center of each leafy clump; these culms are 1½–3' long and usually ascending to erect. Each culm is slender, terete, light green, and hairless. Alternate leaves are located along the lower one-fourth of each culm. The narrow leaf blades are up to 20" long and 2 mm. across; they are medium green, hairless, and either flat or somewhat rolled lengthwise. The leaf sheaths are usually hairless, although a few hairs may be present at their summits. Each fertile culm terminates in a narrowly pyramidal panicle about 3-8" long; because of its naked branches and small spikelets, this panicle has a somewhat airy appearance. The wiry lateral branches of the panicle are 1-3" long and ascending; they subdivide into shorter branchlets that ultimately terminate in individual spikelets. The central axis of the panicle, lateral branches, and branchlets are light green to purple, slender, and hairless. Depending on their stage of development, the spikelets can be olive green, silvery gray, golden yellow, or light tan. Each spikelet is about 4-6 mm. long, consisting of a pair of unequal-sized glumes, a single lemma, a membranous palea, and a floret. One glume is 4-6 mm. long, while the other glume is 2-4 mm. long; the lemma and palea are 3.5–5.5 mm. long. Each floret has 3 reddish anthers and a pair of stigmata that are short, white, and feathery. The florets are wind-pollinated. At maturity, the florets are replaced by globoid grains that are a little less than 2 mm. across; this often causes their paleae to split into two parts. Disarticulation of the spikelets is above the glumes; the grains soon fall to the ground. The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous. This grass spreads primarily by reseeding itself.

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© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers

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