Sunday, September 26, 2021

Curious Critter: Briza minima


I was exploring the Vernal Pool area in Phoenix Park in Fair Oaks, California, when I chanced upon a most curious sight.

At first I thought it was some cocoon that was hanging from a grass stem, but I immediately saw that I was mistaken. What I had thought at first to be of animal origin was in fact the dried seedheads of a grass!

Briza minima  is called shivery grass or lesser quaking grass, to distinguish it from the much larger Briza maxima. This bigger species has many common names, and they include big quaking grass, great quaking grass, greater quaking-grass, large quaking grass, blowfly grass, rattlesnake grass, shelly grass, rattle grass, and shell grass.

Their  unusual forms have made them at times a favorite of the horticultural trade, and they have escaped multiple times and become an invasive in several countries, including the western USA.

When I took one of the delicate pods and shook it, I imagined I could hear tinny sounds emanating from the dried structure. I had to admit they looked quite interesting and I can understand why people could want such a grass in their gardens, but in this case, the results of that desire might be causing environmental problems due to its propensity to escape into the wild.

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