Friday, October 29, 2021

Why aren't there more grass plant nerds?

Schizachyrium scoparium inflorescence

 I am a plant nerd.

At various times in my life I have become obsessed with different plant groups, whether aroids, or banyan trees, or palm trees, or even the occasional foray into orchids. In that long time span I have become familiar with my fellow plant nerds, and the reasons why they have become enamored of their chosen plant group. Most are gardeners and collectors, and love to grow and take care of the plants; some are researchers, and some have even taken their passion and created a business out of it.

The reasons why they focus on a particular plant group are also varied. Perhaps the plants have gorgeous and strange flowers like orchids, or amazing leaves and inflorescences like the aroids. Perhaps the plants remind them of exotic things, like palm trees, or perhaps they are rare and thus of much value.

Grasses as a whole don't seem to normally engender such feelings among plant nerds, with the possible exception of bamboos. Poaceae flowers are usually minute things, and their leaves are relatively similar within the family. Grasses are not rare, and in fact are so successful and abundant that they have become an unremarked part of our environment. People collect and grow aroids and orchids in pots and their gardens, but it's unlikely that plant nerds would keep potted grasses (though I have kept a potted Japanese Blood Grass, a nerdy act if there ever was one!). The fact that they are relatively hard to identity to species also scares off a lot of people.

And yet within the grass family there are remarkable species that are worthy of being the focus of plant nerds. Grasses that have wonderfully fascinating adaptations or are rare and endemic. Grasses like Swallenia alexandrae, the Eureka Dune Grass, which is only found in a few isolated dunes in the vast barren wastelands of Death Valley in California; or the beautiful vining bamboo Chusquea delicatula, found only in the highlands near the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu; or even the strange and oil-exuding Orcuttia grasses that live in transient vernal pools and don't seem to have any affinity at all with other extant grass species. These and others will be some of the species I hope to feature in my future posts, and which I hope to encounter in situ going forwards.   

Spider on Cenchrus purpureus


  1. I look forward to reading about Orcuttia! Do you know of Ross's bentgrass? It's another rarity. More here:

    1. I looked it up, and I like the description of it being only found in vapor-dominated sites in Yellowstone. Never heard of that term before! And while I'm there I'll take a gander as well on Dichanthelium thermale, reputed to be the world's most heat resistant plant.