Walk, ride, or drive along country roads out here in the Illinois prairie lands and you will see something that looks like this:
These scenes get punctuated periodically by bits of color, usually from lilies ("ditch lilies") or clover, or sometimes from phlox and a variety of flowering plans. But usually it’s a sea of green. It can be easy to look at something like this and say "it’s just grass".
And it is. But I was trying to name a particular type of grass for a post a week or two ago, and I’d originally written that it was oat grass. This because, to me, it looked a little like oats at the top. This is the grass in question, along the Hennepin Feeder Canal Trail:
I was not correct.
In trying to verify the name I was using, I found the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes, & Non-flowering Plants in Illinois page at Illinois Wildflowers.
Now, I am a (very) amateur and intermittent gardener, but I thought I knew a thing or two about grass. We all know about Kentucky bluegrass and crab grass, but I’ve heard of others - big bluestem, little bluestem, turkey grass, red fescue. I know my grasses, right?
I had no idea.
Follow that link above. I’ll wait.
What you found, when you went there, was links to something in the neighborhood of 100 different types of grass and similar plants, right? I thought about counting the number of links, but honestly, life is too short. Plus, I’d already lost a ton of time following many, many, many of those links.
What I realized, as I looked at link after link, was that I really don’t know that much about the grasses growing around me. And there are a lot of them. Let’s look back at that picture from before:
If you look closely at this, and start checking out the links on the wildflowers site, you’ll soon realize that what looks like a sea of green is really a varied ecosystem of multiple species:
the width of the grass, it’s height and rigidity, and the presentation of the seeds at the top all mark differences between the species. And different areas yield different species still.
I’m often seeing these things while cycling, and then usually on a recumbent trike, which puts me at eye level with the grasses. I might not have taken notice otherwise, but now that I know it’s hard not to see it.
The really hard part with all of this is that there are so many varieties listed on the Illinois Wildflowers site that it quickly becomes dizzying. I clicked probably a third of the links there before I finally gave up, fatigued by the volume and the staggering degree of my apparent grass-related ignorance.
And I still don’t know what variety of grass it is that was growing along the Hennepin Canal Feeder Trail, but I can tell you for sure it’s not oat grass. Not Poverty Oat Grass, not actual oats, not side oats grama, not inland oats, not...
...I finally just gave up and called it "wild grass".
(Seriously - if anyone knows what the grass in the Hennepin Canal picture is, let me know)