Two Nodding Grasses

by Carl Strang

Plants in winter are less colorful, but they gain other dimensions of beauty. The colors, subtle shades of brown and gray, require a slower appreciation. Shapes become important, and these are diverse. Today’s winter botany subjects are two grasses which might be confused at a very cursory glance, but prove to be quite different. The first is a weedy annual, the giant foxtail.

The fruiting head droops as it did when blooming.

The long bristles are relatively straight, and have begun to fall off. A few seeds remain. The other grass is the Canada wild rye, sometimes called the nodding wild rye for good reason.

Here the bristles, awns in this case, are longer, stronger and curved.

Canada wild rye is not as weedy as the foxtail, though it can appear early in a restoration project or prairie or savanna succession. It will persist for years, however, where the annual foxtail quickly will be escorted off stage by superior perennial competitors.

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