Thursday, December 31, 2009

Diarrhena Grass

When you think of woodland plants, grasses are generally not the image that comes to mind. There are some grasses, however, that thrive in wooded areas. One common woodland grass at Blue Jay Barrens is Diarrhena Grass, Diarrhena americana. Habitat descriptions for this species suggest it will be found in moist woods. Apparently it also does well in dry woods.

The areas of the woods containing Diarrhena had periods in their history when the canopy was much more open. Perhaps additional sunlight helps this grass become established in new areas. Most of the Diarrhena is now growing beneath a near 100% canopy and appears to be thriving. There must be some limiting factor at work here or the Diarrhena would carpet the entire woodland floor.

Diarrhena Grass can reach a height of three feet and produce some fairly thick stands, but the individual stalks are not so tightly massed that other woodland plants are excluded from the area. Several species of woodland wildflowers will bloom here in the spring.

I think this grass would be excellent for use in restoration of heavily eroding woodland areas. Even a thin stand tends to capture and hold fallen leaves. This keeps the leaves in place on steep slopes, so they can begin decomposing and recreating the woodland soil ecosystem. Some young researcher may want to look into this. I bet it would make a great graduate research project.

The seeds are held long into winter and are eaten by Turkey, Grouse and various songbirds. There have been several snowy years when I’ve seen myriad bird tracks and wing marks in the snow around these stalks.

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