Last week, about May 1, I saw the first flowers on Pennsylvania sedge, Carex pensylvanica. You can see the yellow male anthers filled with pollen above, which sit higher on the flowering stalk than the female flowers, which are the darker brown color.
Native skipper butterflies are threatened and endangered in many states across the U.S. The Poweshiek skipperling, Dakota and Ottoe skipper larva feed on switchgrass and their butterflies feed on black-eyed Susan. Planting these two perennials in your garden this summer can provide plants for these skipper’s complete life cycle. For more information see Benefits of Native Grasses and Gardening with Native Grasses in Cold Climates.
Detroit is making headlines with its new green infrastructure plantings, many of which include grasses and sedges. Methodist Hospital and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District just west of Minneapolis collaborated to make an amazing community transformation. See before and after aerial photographs of this project. Instead of a sanitary sewer and abandoned ditch, Minnehaha Creek now is a thriving wetland with a public boardwalk and 100+ acres green space. Grasses and sedges are the workhorses for wetland restoration.
Snow is so deep (30+inches) near the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Grass Collection that walking is nearly impossible. Miscanthus still stands with winter interest!
Chicago Botanic Garden published issue #43 of their plant trials, An Evaluation Study of Hardy Ornamental Grasses. Out of 109 taxa (or kinds), 22 received 5-star ratings, an additional 25 received 4-star ratings. Plants were trialed from 2006-2017, however few if any plants were trialed all of those years. Minimum was 3 years, many for 4 years. Their results are interesting and vary in comparison to the National Grass Trials.
Trials are important and vary depending on site locations.
Panicum ‘Apache Rose’ (right) has rose-colored flowers; Panicum ‘Blue Fountain’ left has arching blue foliage were planted in 2015 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and were not available for the 2012-2016 National Grass Trials.
At a recent talk I was asked which plants are older Sedges or Grasses? I guessed sedges….however when I looked this up and saw Wikipedia’s evolutionary tree showing the monocots like grasses and sedges near the top as younger plants. I am not sure we know which evolved first, but I think its probably a simple grass and sedges came later?
As far as number go and which are more plentiful? Grasses are considered the “hair of the earth” for what they cover in acreage. Think of the geographic names given to grass: pampas, steppe, savanna, plains, prairie. Worldwide Poaceae is the 5th largest family in terms of species, with 700 genera and 11,000 species. However, in Minnesota, despite our original prairie, the Cyperaceae or sedge family is a force here! Welby Smith’s Sedges and Rushes of Minnesota lists 15 genera and 217 species in Minnesota; largest genus is Carex. Ownbey and Morley Vascular Plants of Minnesota list 12 genera in the Sedge family with 224 species 155 of which are Carex. These authors list 67 Poaceae with 189 species, some of which are introduced. So I am calling it a tie for sedge and grass species in Minnesota! We have a lot of both sedges and grasses. Some consider this the center of origin for sedges in North America.
Carex muskingumensis, palm sedge, shows the 3-ranking leaf orientation of the sedge family.
It’s amazing to see the world of grasses from a new view! Gail Hudson directed and produced this video with the generosity of Kent Withington, an Arboretum volunteer and his drone. The video was made for the 2019 Northern Green Conference; the Top 10 Grasses are listed in a previous post on this blog.