Saturday, June 6, 2020

A short history of my obsession with grasses

Bambusa malingensis
Bambusa malingensis
I've recently wondered when my interest in grasses first manifested itself.

My fascination with a specific plant group for a long time was confined to Aroids, and I maintained one of the longest running aroid-specific websites on the internet when I started my Thaumatophyllum (at the time, Meconostigma) site in 2005.

Of course, I have almost always been involved with one species of grass, Oryza sativa (rice), which I have grown almost every year for more than a decade as something like a ceremonial ritual. But I think this interest did not extend beyond to other grasses until Summer of 2011, when I obtained my first ornamental grass, Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' (Japanese Blood Grass, but more well known in its wild form as Cogon grass).

Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' (Japanese Blood Grass)
Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron' (Japanese Blood Grass)
This started my first love affair with grasses, and that JBG is still with me and thriving wildly to this day. In fact, it interested me so much that I bought a few more grasses in 2012, including a Miscanthus sinensis 'Gold Bar', which I unceremoniously stuck below the front passenger seat after I bought it ;-)

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gold Bar'
I also remember 2012 was when we went on a road trip to Florida, and I took several pictures of grasses that we met along the way.

Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass)
Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass)
The first were specimens of Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass) in the Carolina Premium Outlets on the outskirts of Raleigh, North Carolina.

Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass)

There were some truly impressive specimens of this species in that outlet, with a central plant near the entrance rising perhaps 3-4 meters high. The outlet had also planted them on the islands next to the parking lots, and I had a field day taking photos of the grass while waiting for my wife to finish shopping.

Miscanthus sinensis
Miscanthus sinensis cultivar
In addition, the outlet had a few Miscanthus sinensis specimens scattered about, although I was admittedly less impressed with these than the flowering Cortaderia.

Bambusa malingensis
Bambusa malingensis
Once we got to Florida, we visited The Fairchild Botanical Garden in Miami, where I admired the huge bamboo groves, and on the way back home, we also visited Myrtle Beach, where I marveled at the tall Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata) waving in the sea breeze,

Uniola paniculata
Uniola paniculata at Myrtle Beach

Spikelets of Uniola paniculata

It was at this point that for some reason my interest in grasses wavered then waned, and for about 6 years I barely thought about them due to a rising interest in Banyan Trees (Ficus spp).

This changed in Summer of 2018, and it had to do with Cogon grass (Imperata cylindrica) again. This time, I became interested in the invasive wild form, and my fascination with this one species started to slowly encompass other species in the Poaceae.

During our trip to Baanf National Park in Canada in Fall 2018, I took quite a lot of pictures of grasses in that area, and by the next Summer, I had been enmeshed enough in the family to start this site.

Hordeum jubatum in Lake Louise (Baanf National Park)
In a way, it was a case of positive feedback, where my interest in grasses pushed me to write articles and take pictures of them, while the solid presence of my work provided an impetus for me to write even more and study them even more.

This coming July will mark the first year anniversary of this site. I have enjoyed the journey immensely and I am hoping that my ramblings and photos will encourage others to be just as fascinated by this plant family as I am.

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