Thursday, August 20, 2009

Indian Grass

The dominant tall grass at Blue Jay Barrens is Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans. This is the time of year when most of the prairies are transitioning from wildflowers to grasses. Many of the flowers that were evident just two weeks ago are now hidden by the rapidly growing grass.

Indian Grass is now flowering and this makes it very conspicuous in the fields. Final height is usually around six or seven feet. This is tall enough to effectively hide any animal that might wander through.

The flower head is very loose and open. As the flowers are fertilized and seeds begin to form, the spikelets or side branches of the flower head will become more aligned with the central stem so that the seed head is more dense. If picked and dried just as the seeds mature, the seed heads make wonderful additions to dried flower arrangements.

The yellow color of the flowers comes from the exposed anthers. The white brush-like features are the stigmas. Once pollination has occurred, the seed heads will take on a golden brown appearance.

One of the identifying characteristics of Indian Grass is the rifle sight ligule of the leaf. Pulling the leaf gently away from the stem will bring this feature into view. The size and shape of the notch is variable.

This field is in for a lot of changes over the next few weeks. The Indian Grass flower heads will change from yellow to brown as the leaves take on a darker shade of green. Finally, frost will rework the whole scene to a bright golden brown.


  1. Wow!!! Your field is gorgeous!!! A beautiful, beautiful grassland! Thank goodness you have restored it and are protecting it. Loved learning about the grass--didn't know it was called Indian grass. I love seeing those plumes rising in a field.

  2. Kelly - 24 years ago this was a typical farm field covered in Oat stubble with a new planting of Orchardgrass beginning to grow. The native vegetation becomes more diverse each year.
    That last shot is my favorite view of the field. I love the roll of the hills and the curve of the tree line in the distance.