Botanical Additions

by Carl Strang

New plants continue to bloom at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Many are familiar, while others send me to the microscope and botanical keys. Today I’ll feature five of the latter, two grasses, a bulrush and two rushes. The grasses I was particularly eager to find, as I hear them mentioned frequently, but never have taken the time to learn to recognize them. Both are European imports, frequently planted to create pastures, but of no value in native habitat restoration. The term “fescue field” is a common reference in northeast Illinois to former pastures we would like to see brought back to prairie. The characteristic plant is the tall or meadow fescue, Festuca elatior or pratensis (here even the scientific name seems less than fully standard).

To my uneducated eye it reminds me of the Kentucky bluegrass, but is taller and more heavily built. Different under the microscope in important ways, however.

I also hear “brome” mentioned in this context, referring specifically to smooth brome, Bromus inermis.

The long slender spikelets fatten some as they mature, but are very distinctive. It’s called smooth brome because many other brome species, both native and imported, have prominent wiry awns festooning the spikelets.

A number of representatives of a new bulrush popped up in the stream corridor prairie near the marsh. It keyed to red bulrush, Scirpus pendulus.

This is very different from the great bulrush I featured last week, the vegetative parts reminding me more of sedges than the big dark leaves of Scirpus validus.

Finally there are two different rushes, in an entirely different family from the sedges, grasses and bulrushes. They are closely related to each other, and some botanists have regarded them as varieties of the same species. At Mayslake they are quite distinct.

This is the path, or roadside rush, Juncus tenuis. It is very abundant at Mayslake, growing in the packed soil of trails and where fishermen pace the shore of May’s Lake.

I have found the other species, Dudley’s rush or Juncus dudleyi, in just one place so far. It shares a depression with the common fox sedge, the place where I found a large concentration of meadow katydids last year.

Dudley’s rush is much more substantial, being at least twice the height of the path rush and with proportionately larger clumps.

With the identification of these abundant species I have greatly reduced the anonymous green mass portion of the Mayslake landscape.

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