Tuesday, October 13, 2020

White flowerheads in a white landscape: Chloris virgata in White Sands National Monument


In Fall of 2019 I visited the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico to view some of the tenacious grasses that thrived in this relatively inhospitable environment.

While dropping by the visitor center of that park I was met by a wonderful sight. All by its lonesome on one of the pebble strewn islands that marked the boundary of the center was a single plant. It stood straight and tall, the white flowerheads above it gently waving in the breeze. 

It was not an ornamental, planted by some gardener, but a wayward seed that had sprouted and grown into a mature plant, struggling past the pebbles and flourishing in the light.  

I found the pictures of this grass again recently, and managed to tentatively identify it as Chloris virgata, a widespread species that nevertheless was not present in New Jersey. It has many common names, such as feather fingergrass and feather windmillgrass.

It is an annual grass that is worldwide in distribution and because of its hardy nature can oftentimes be found in disturbed areas as well, such as roadsides.

I must admit, I knew none of this information when I first spotted it that fine day in New Mexico. All I knew was how amazing it was to find such a beautiful plant growing tall and firm and proud in that isolated visitor center.

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