Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Little Bluestem's Mountain Loving (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Schizachyrium scoparium

Note: My 55 mm lens is screwy, so you'll pardon me because the pics here were all taken with a cellphone camera, though it does have a Leica lens.

I have an inordinate fondness for Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem). I think it's a combination of its smaller size, its very distinctive habit, and its really cool reddish coloring when Fall comes along. Plus, the species is a member of the "Four Horsemen" of the Tall Grass Prairies, and you can't get any more native than that.

I also hike a lot, and when I get near the top of moderately tall mountain summits, I sometimes spot colonies of this species rising from the stony outcrops like crimson sentinels. It always gives me a thrill to see them, no matter how many times this happens. It's like seeing an old friend again, one who has endeared itself to your heart.

Schizachyrium scoparium

I encountered Little Bluestem again when I drove (then hiked) up Prospect Mountain, near Lake George in New York State. Colonies of this species were scattered on the summit of the mountain, as well as along the roadway that led up to the summit.

S. scoparium seems to thrive when there is lots of sunlight and bare rocky ground, and both are plentiful up where the air is fresh and the wind is sometimes cold. In this case, about 620 meters above sea level, well below the tree line, but sunny enough to make it very happy.

Up here the grass rose from the surrounding stone, their straight reddish forms quite arresting. One particularly large (and flowery) individual stood next to a boulder, the sinuous curves of part of Lake George glittering behind it.

Schizachyrium scoparium

I still remember seeing this species in June 2019 while hiking the Summit Trail in Jenny Jump Forest in NJ. I did not know the name of the grass then (how things have changed in such a short time!), but I still marveled at the sight of the reddish hued straight grass at the summit of Jenny Jump.

So the next time you hike up one of the mountains in the eastern part of the USA, keep a look out for one of these native beauties!

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