Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Hairy Bentgrass?

I wrote in my newsletter about how I wanted to learn to identify grasses--I always like to collect a bouquet of all the wild grasses growing on my block on Assumption (August 15) in honor of Our Lady of the Grain. I went out and found a magnificent speciment in the vacant lot across the street--almost three feet high with some fine seed heads at the top--but then couldn't identify it.

The websites I found through a Google search were not helpful. They wanted details I couldn't provide. To my surprise (and dismay), we don't seem to have a single ruler in the house that measures centimeters. Also I can't see the fine detail of the grass--I don't have a hands len--though I am using the magnifying glass that came with my Oxford English Dicitonary.

Luckily one of my readers recommended Pojar's Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. It's amazing. The grass section begins with picture keys which break down the Grass family (Poaeceae) into Tribes: the Barley Tribe, the Millet tribe, etc. To distinguish between the 200 varieties of grasses that grow in my region, it helps to learn technical terms like panicle and glume and lemma. Grasses have their own vocabulary, quite distinct from flowers.

At first I thought my wild grass was a fescue but now I'm leaning towards Bentgrass, possibly Hair Bentgrass (Agrostis scabra). According to Pojar's, the name scabra means rough or scrufy, and refers to the way the grass feels. That's my main clue. When you run your fingertips along the stem and even the panicle branches of my specimen, it feels like sandpaper. I feel no certainty about this identification so if you have a better idea let me know.

Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon, Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Lone Pine Publishing 2004

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