Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Golden Fields of Nasella pulchra at the Marine Mammal Center in Golden Gate Recreation Area

When I visited the Marine Mammal Center north of San Francisco in the Golden Gate Recreation Area, I noticed the hill that I had to climb from the parking lot was covered in a field of beautifully golden grass.

Many grasses in California turn a golden color as summer settles in, and there were various species of grass that comprised this field. But one of the most striking was a relatively tall species with needle-like awns in its inflorescence.

It was purple needle grass (Nasella pulchra), a tufted perennial that is native to California, and a species that was actually declared the State Grass in 2004. The purple color comes mainly from the two paired glumes that protect the single floret in each spikelet.

I was quite excited to see it, as many habitats in the state have been swamped by invasive grasses. This is particularly noticeable in the state's Central Valley, where annual grasses like the dreaded cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) have largely replaced the original perennials.

The coastal prairies have been less affected, and Golden Gate Recreation Area has made it a point to protect those habitats within its borders, so kudos to them for that.

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