Monday, January 31, 2022

A Nice Lazy Sunday with the Wiregrass Aristida beyrichiana

Seedheads of A. beyrichiana (A. stricta)

It was a chilly but very sunny Sunday yesterday, and I decided to go visit the Disney Wilderness Preserve. I always enjoy exploration trips, so macro lens and camera in hand I made the short drive to what I consider one of the more well maintained and preserved hiking parks in the state.

Dwarfed by some understory Palms

When I visited there last, the most visible parts of the understory included Andropogon spp, as well as the palm Serenoa repens. I also saw several large specimens of what I believe is Muhlenbergia expansa. But this time I took a closer look at the surrounding vegetation as I made my way along the trail and to my absolute delight discovered what I took to be clusters of Aristida beyrichiana (aka Aristida stricta var beyrichiana), many of which had developing or spent inflorescences.

The grasses were not tall, perhaps up to half a meter in height, though the seedheads pushed some of them close to a meter. But the yellowish brown inflorescences were quite distinctive amongst the brown remnants of the other grasses and I had no problems at all finding my quarry.

Drying seedhead of Aristida beyrichiana (A. stricta)

Under my macro lens the distinctive 3 awned Aristida spikelets looked like cactus spines. The awns project out of the lemma, and in A. beyrichiana twist and turn along their lengths. In fact as the seedheads dry they reminded me of twisted barb wire, which is quite apt given that one of the common names of A. beyrichiana is "wiregrass" (although the term commonly refers to the thin wiry leaf blades).

The twisted awns of wiregrass spikelets

As I continued along the trail, more and more of the clusters of wiregrass had older and completely stripped seedheads. This might have been because various areas of the path had been burned at different times, which might have influenced the growth and flowering times of the specimens in each location. 

The twisted awns of wiregrass

I had been so focused on photographing the clusters that I suddenly realized that 3 hours had already passed, and it was almost time for the park to close. I had to hurry and jog back to the visitor center, but I was exhilarated by all the plants that I had found, and I drove home with a big smile on my face. 

I love this native grass!

Stripped seedheads behind some younger examples 

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