Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Prairie Grasses in the Fall

Fall is my favorite season of the year, and not just because of the leaf displays. The prairie grasses hit their peak and begin to dominate the landscape. It seems wrong to wax poetic about the color brown, but these grasses truly bring out the beauty of the many shades of brown. Little bluestem turns a rusty brown, then covers itself in little bits of white fluff that glow in the evening sun. Big bluestem goes for a purplish brown while Indian grass takes on golden brown hues. Switch grass stays green a little longer, but eventually turns the palest tan.

The last several days have been cloudy and damp, so there are no good photos of the grasses glowing in the sun. But the raindrops add their own special touch. Here's a stand of switch grass (Panicum virgatum) covered with drops of water from the previous night's rain:

The switch grass is the frothy-looking stuff in the photo; the occasional darker seed heads are Indian grass.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) has its own way of displaying the rain:

These grasses all were grown from seed sowed directly into an old field. The seed was sown approximately 17 years ago, so these grasses are well established. They tend to situate themselves in the conditions in which they are happiest, so the Indian grass stays on the higher ground, avoiding the moist areas.


  1. Marlene, you have the perfect enviornment for grasses, they seen so 'in context' there. I do love them,but must take care with the types I pick-they would look odd and out of place if I choose wrong. Your photos are great and I'm glad to hear the photo class went well for you-mine is in a couple of week, but now I'm worrying about baseball playoffs-what if the class conflicts with an important game?

    Kathy in Napa

  2. Funny you should mention context, Kathy. As I was driving home this evening I was thinking almost the same thing. Except for that part about baseball playoffs possibly conflicting with ANYTHING here, since both Chicago teams have been done for a while!