Gushing Grasses

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Leafhopper Farm is a small permaculture demonstration farm outside of Seattle Washington. Within our acreage, there is a mixture of forest and pasture land, along with about 300′ of Weiss Creek running across the southern half of the property. The pastures are mainly grassland; with countless verities of what we all think of as grass. Now, grass is far from just the green stuff growing on the ground in a matted carpet of potential histamine stimulation and pruritus (itchiness).

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Turns out, it’s a jungle out there. I’ll admit that grass is my “green wall”  of unexplored vegetation. These pictures are my first attempt labeling the grass at Leafhopper Farm. I know some of these are wrong, even as I write this. The best way to identify grasses involves the nodes. Since I topped the plants for my gathering convenience, there are no “leaves” of grass to look at. I’ve chosen a more challenging ID game using the complex seed head (flower spike) structures of each species.

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These pictures do not do justice to the complex shapes within each of these samples. Grass is epic! Think of an ear of corn before you husk it. The green layers of textured, hairy roughage are larger versions of the bulging heads of “spiklets” perched on each stem below.

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There could be mislabeled samples of the same species at different stages of seeding too. Just compare Common Velvet and Reed Canary! Because it’s so wet here, many of the grass looking vegetation is actually other plant family look-a-likes. Note Dewey’s Sedge at the end of this entry.

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The Poa Genus has about 500 species which thrive in temperate regions and are the most adaptable grass to mowing heights. They are known as “Bluegrass” in North America.  Once, when I was a little girl, I wanted to have a band called “Blue Grass”, then my Mom told me that was a whole genera of music already. Now I’m a farmer and I grow Bluegrass. 🙂

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The Quackgrass above is also called couch grass. The genus is technically Elymus, and I don’t know why Agropyron is considered a synonym; but that’s scientific names for you. This grass was imported from Eurasia in the 1600s, and considered a weed. It’s a tough grass and is native to many places, even The Arctic biome. This grass is not pervasive on my land, but I think it’s being imported in my hay. I see it the most around the goat barn.

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Sweet Vernal grass is short, and you might not even notice it in a crowd. I hope I’m right about IDing Sweet Vernalgrass on the land. It’s called sweet because when it’s dry, a vanilla scent develops. The seed head (flower spike) on this specimen is damaged, looking much shorter than the full flower spike. There would normally be about 3x as many spikelets on that flower spike (seed head). It’s also an early spring grass. I picked this one already dry in the driveway.

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Elymus is the Genus of our cereal crops. I sew winter rye as a cover crop in some places. Glaucus happens to be a Greek prophetic sea god. He was turned immortal after eating a magical herb used by Helios (sun god) to relive his horses’ fatigue. The herb was also called “Dog’s Tooth”, which happens to be another name for Couch Grass. The two flower spikes look similar. I would think horses would enjoy eating rye more than quackgrass.

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I do know that the grass featured below is what horse lovers enjoy feeding their four legged lawn ornaments. This timothy definitely did come from hay bought for my goats. It’s not a bad species to have in the mix so I’ll happily let it spread in the pastures.

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The rogue specimen in this collection is no grass, but a sedge. The genus Carex has over 2,000 species, and the entry for deweyana has not even been written yet on Wikipedia. I knew this was a sedge when I picked it. It may not be deweyana, but my naturalist eye can pick out Carex from any Poaceae. Well, let me restate that; I can tell a Cyperaceae from any Poaceae, but Carex is a “true sedge”, and I’m no caricologist (yes, that’s a real name).

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I thought trying to identify the grasses around the farm would be a challenge, and I was right! I’ve gone out and pulled more flower spikes (seed heads), trying to name them and locate new species for the continued demystification of my pastures. I’ll also have a whole new respect for cutting the grass.

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