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Mr. Smarty Plants - Grass at Wildflower Center with purple glow

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Saturday - October 31, 2009

From: Pflugerville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildflower Center
Title: Grass at Wildflower Center with purple glow
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

What is the clumping grass along the WFC meadow trail that has a seedhead resembling bermudagrass and a glow similar to purple three-awn when backlit by the sun. I saw it yesterday (Oct. 2) and wondered if it was Chloris verticillata.

ANSWER:

Although there is some Chloris verticillata (tumble windmill grass) growing in the meadow at the Wildflower Center, Mr. Smarty Plants thinks that most likely what you saw was King Ranch (KR) Bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum).  It is a native grass of Europe, North Africa and Asia and was introduced into the United States in the early 1900s, probably 1917 into California, for cattle food and erosion control.  You can read more about the history of its introduction in an answer to a previous question.  It is on the Texas Invasives list and you can read about how difficult it is to get rid of—that's why the Wildflower Center has plenty of it on its grounds.  According to Dr. Kelly Lyons of Trinity University in San Antonio, the Texas Department of Tranportation's seeding of the rights of way of Texas highways with KR bluestem to prevent erosion has crowded out many of the wildflowers growing along the roadways—those that were also planted by TxDOT. KR bluestem is agressive and tends to take over and create a monoculture.

Despite all its bad traits, its seed heads do produce a beautiful purple 'glow'.  These are quite evident along the roadside of MoPac on the way to the Wildflower Center.  Here are photos of KR bluestem.

 

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