Monday, June 6, 2011


A few days ago I was out for a walk down the road. I was still tingling with the excitement of seeing all the desert wildflowers the day before. My mind was keen with finding more.
Well, there were buttercups, and clover, and herb robert. All the usual suspects of the weedy roadside buried in a matrix of grasses.
I had been looking right through the grasses for the pretty petalled forbs. Then I looked at the grasses. I began to pick a few grass inflorescences just to get closer. I was stunned at the diversity of grasses I found in the 10 foot swath along the road. I picked a whole handful of inflorescences as I went to examine when I got home.
I pulled the only book I have on wild grasses and began to read:
‘Few people — even those who are passionately interested in nature — take the trouble to learn the names of grasses,” wrote Lauren Brown in her book GRASSES: An Identification Guide, “Enthusiasts who will travel hundreds of miles to look at ‘wildflowers’ ignore the grasses in their own back yard (even though they are technically also wildflowers).”
That sure sounded like me. So I decided to bridge that gap in my botanical knowledge and start learning the grasses. So like a good poet cum botanist I begin looking. Just trying to see the grasses. And the more I see the more there are. The word ‘grasses’ begins to hiss through my teeth like all the blue racers I saw on my walk fleeing the warmth of the black top for green privacy. But it is like calling my friends “people” instead of using their names. I want to learn their names.
A few were familiar, even had familiar friendly names like timothy and brome, from the summers I spent in the hayfields of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Some like quack grass and crab grass, with their cranky little names are familiar from a life of weeding. But there were many lovely grasses I had never taken notice of before. And June, the grassiest month, when they all start extending their inflorescences and letting their wind born pollen fly, is the best time to be looking.
So I am asking you, too, dear readers, to look. Not at lawns necessarily, or the ornamental grasses in you garden, but at the grasses that are everywhere in vacant lots, cracks in pavements and along the side of the road, the green swath that we speed by each day. And if you can find a place to get out of your car and take a closer look please do.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.