Monday, October 17, 2022

Beauty and the Beast: The Alligator and the Muhly


Gorgeous specimens of Muhlenbergia sericea along the sides of the trail

There is no doubt that species in the genus Muhlenbergia are some of the most beautiful grasses out there, and I mostly encountered them as ornamental grasses in the Northeast USA. But they exist in plentiful varieties as native plants in Florida, a fact that astonished me when I first encountered them in Jacksonville's Atlantic Beach

This group of grasses are also a prominent fixture in the Nature Conservancy's Disney Preserve in Florida, and when I visited the place to hike a couple days back, they were garbed in masses of absolutely gorgeous pinkish blooms.

Juvenile alligator hiding under the beautiful M. sericea

They also seemed to provide an unusual service to the other inhabitants of the park.

Under one large specimen, a juvenile alligator had parked itself under the heavy shade (see image above), perhaps seeking protection from the gawking passersby and other hikers around it. The combination of the airy pink blooms and the primeval looking reptile was striking. 

Beautiful inflorescence of M. sericea

I typed the species to Muhlenbergia sericea, which in some circles is still grouped as a variety of M. capillaris (M. capillaris var. filipes). At the non-macro level, the inflorescence of many of the Muhlenbergia spp look similar, but a closer look at their extremely miniscule spikelets will normally allow people to differentiate between the species.

Spikelets of M. sericea

Unlike the spikelets of M. capillaris, those of  M. sericea have two very long awns (see image below). Both glumes (the outer bract-like structures enclosing the floret) are awned, with one of the glumes having a very long awn. The second long awn is from the lemma, another bract-like structure that holds the male and female reproductive organs of the floret.

Two spikelets of M. sericea, each with with two very long awns. One spikelet is showing purple anthers and the filament, as well as the fuzzy stigma. 

Seeing an alligator is not that unusual in Florida (although this was the first time I've seen one in a bit), but happening upon a gator and a grass (which is in full glorious bloom) certainly is unusual and picturesque.


  1. So good to find your blog, there at Hollis'. I maybe keepr of wild places but my son always the keeper of grasses. I will read this later today, will have to go out now. Excited to read what you write about Muhlenbergia, i love little muhly, i have to look up her proper name.

    1. Welcome! I am always happy to meet other students and caretakers of members of the Poaceae. And I would be glad to meet your son as well.

  2. Mat Muhly is the one i love around where i live. (Muhlenbergia richardsonii) So Yukon and Florida at least do have genera in common.

    1. Thank you! I will look it up. And given the success of grasses in spreading around the world, I'm pretty sure the two areas share a lot more genera. Panicum perhaps, or cold season grasses like Hordeum, Poa and Festuca.

    2. I looked up that species and it seems it not only exists in the Yukon, but is found all the way south to Mexico and along the western USA. A very successful species indeed!

    3. Yes we do have Hordeum Poa and Festuca :). It is just when i look at the overal picture of plant species, it always seems that in North America, Florida and Yukon seem most different, quite obvious i guess as we are so far apart.