|FERNANDO AMORSOLO (1882-1972) Oil on Canvas, 1950|
In many parts of the world the time for planting new crop is one of hope and joy. It is a symbol of renewal, and the promise of an even better future.
|FERNANDO AMORSOLO (1882-1972) Oil on Canvas, 1950|
|By User:Bluemoose - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia|
"If we enable people in power to lie, you all of a sudden have millions of people doubting an election that was certified in every state. We had seven or eight million more people who voted for [Joe] Biden than for [Donald] Trump. Every state has certified those results. Every court appeal has been turned down. A legitimate election is suddenly questioned by millions of people, including many of the people who are leading our country in government, because we've decided over the last few years to allow lies to be told. This is who we are. You reap what you sow."
- Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors Coach
I probably have to apologize for that pun, but I do like sweet corn (which is more accurately called maize, and whose scientific name is Zea mays). It makes for a good snack, and of course I love some of the other foods where maize is a major component, such as corn tortilla.
But it should come as no surprise to people that unlike rice, which directly feeds several billion souls, the vast majority of the maize crop does NOT go into directly feeding people. In fact, when I looked it up, I was surprised to find out that only a very small percentage of whole maize makes it to the table.
The largest use of maize is for feeding animals (around 40%), and right behind it is its use as biofuel (around 30%). Less than 10% of the total crop goes to either food or drink in the USA, and even the majority of that ends up as high fructose corn syrup. Unfortunately, very little of that crop goes to making the sweet juicy snack that I love.
For a detailed and interesting look at how this very important grass species impacts the country, I highly recommend watching the documentary King Corn, which is available in its full length below.
Enjoy and learn!
There is no doubt that the exotic species Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese silvergrass) is very heavily used in commercial and residential landscaping. I see them everywhere nowadays, from mall parking lots, office lots, to the front yards of suburban homes. Even arboretums like the Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown, New Jersey use it extensively due to its beautiful form and flowers. But at least until recently, I have not seen "escaped" specimens that have jumped the fence here in New Jersey and made its way into the wild.
|M. sinensis behind Panicum virgatum and Pennisetum sp, and Festuca glauca (Frelinghuysen Arboretum)|
This changed when I visited the South Mountain Recreation Complex in Essex County, which featured a huge reservoir surrounded by a paved path. People can walk or run around the lake using this path, and trails peel off from it to go into the deeper woodland hiking paths.
All along the perimeter of this path are planted shrubbery as well as ornamental grasses, and one of the species used was of course M. sinensis. I was able to tell it was this because even though all the grasses had been cut to the ground for the winter, I still spotted some of the distinctive inflorescence spikes of this species lying nearby.
|Escaped M. sinensis along side of woods|
Fortunately, unlike some other invasive grasses, rhizome expansion in this species is not as aggressive, but it still is somewhat of a concern that this particular population is showing signs of expansion into the nature trails. Time will only tell if this burgeoning invasion will create significant problems in the future.
|(c) James St. John, Wikipedia|
|Redman et al, 2002|
|Márquez et al, 2007|
|Modified from Marin et al (2020), te Velthuis (2014), and J. St, John (Wikipedia)|
Marin, Yasmina & Hernández-Restrepo, Margarita & Crous, Pedro. (2020). Multi-locus phylogeny of the genus Curvularia and description of ten new species. Mycological Progress. 19. 559–588. 10.1007/s11557-020-01576-6.
Márquez LM, Redman RS, Rodriguez RJ, Roossinck MJ. A virus in a fungus in a plant: three-way symbiosis required for thermal tolerance. Science. 2007 Jan 26;315(5811):513-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1136237. Erratum in: Science. 2007 Apr 13;316(5822):201. PMID: 17255511.
Redman RS, Sheehan KB, Stout RG, Rodriguez RJ, Henson JM. Thermotolerance generated by plant/fungal symbiosis. Science. 2002 Nov 22;298(5598):1581. doi: 10.1126/science.1072191. PMID: 12446900.
Stout RG, Al-Niemi TS. Heat-tolerant flowering plants of active geothermal areas in Yellowstone National Park. Ann Bot. 2002 Aug;90(2):259-67. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcf174. PMID: 12197524; PMCID: PMC4240417.
te Velthuis, A.J.W. Common and unique features of viral RNA-dependent polymerases. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. 71, 4403–4420 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00018-014-1695-z
|Panicum virgatum, Schizachyrium scoparium, Calamagrostis sp, Panicum virgatum|
You can find beauty in the most mundane of surroundings.
Deep Cut Gardens in Middletown, NJ features a gorgeous formal garden, tropical and other interesting plants in greenhouses, and short trails for nature lovers.
But hidden in plain sight in the main parking lot was something that actually made me gasp.
There between the rows of parking spaces and parked cars stood masses of ornamental grasses, their now-dried stems and leaves rising tall and straight towards the cold November sky. Every single island in the lot was filled with these botanical wonders.
The great thing about it was that these were not the non-native Miscanthus sinensis cultivars that are so beloved nowadays by landscape designers, but mostly native perennial grasses.
The tallest were Panicum virgatum cultivars (switch grass), their erect forms standing like disciplined soldiers ready for battle.
And for lovers of Miscanthus sinensis, the park had a huge specimen towering over a small decorative pond just steps away from the entrance.
|M. sinensis across the pond from the cattails|
|P. virgatum with dried airy panicles still in place|
I was doing a hike at one of the NJ parks a week or so back when I happened to see a grass that was growing from between the branched fork of a now leafless tree.
The grass looked quite happy and healthy, and a quick look at its base showed some accumulated debris, and perhaps even soil. I can only surmise that it got to its present location via a wind blown seed being deposited in between the trunks.
This of course made me wonder why there didn't seem to be any obligate epiphytic grasses.
|Epiphytes. (c) Hans Hillewaert - Wikipedia|
|Tripogon capillatus (c) GBIF, specimen from University of Michigan|
Carnivorous plants are not the norm in plants, and have mostly been restricted to species that live in nitrogen poor environments and cannot get their N requirements the old fashioned (and less energy intensive) way, by absorption of N compounds through the soil or N-fixing bacteria. Instead, such plants kill and eat animals to get this essential element from their victims.
The fascination with such carnivorous plants as Nepenthes and Dionaea made me wonder whether some grasses have made the leap to carnivory, at least to supplement their normal nitrogen intake.
Incredibly enough, there is some evidence that some grasses have made the leap to utilizing N from animal sources, albeit indirectly, through partnerships with endophytic fungi. The way they do this is simple and quite interesting, and involves fungi that kill insects in the soil. Such fungi bore thorough the insect cuticle, proliferate within, and ultimately kill it.
|Roach killed by Metarhizium fungi. By Chengshu Wang and Yuxian Xia - PLoS Genetics, January 2011|
Sasan RK, Bidochka MJ. The insect-pathogenic fungus Metarhizium robertsii (Clavicipitaceae) is also an endophyte that stimulates plant root development. Am J Bot. 2012 Jan;99(1):101-7. doi: 10.3732/ajb.1100136. Epub 2011 Dec 14.
Researchers have found that the maximum height of tall plants is limited by the ability of the plant to pull water up from the ground to supply the highest leaves. The water column is drawn through xylem vessels, which are the specialized tubes that transport water in plants. When the cost of supplying water to the leaves is higher than the photosynthetic benefits given by those top leaves, then the plant ceases to grow taller.
|Arundo donax in New Mexico|
|Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)|
|Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)|
Nevertheless, many grasses are simply stunning when someone takes the time to really appreciate their beauty through the lens of a camera. Examples of this hidden beauty can be seen in some of the macro shots I have taken of the inflorescence of various grasses.
|Chasmanthium latifolium (Northern Sea Oats)|
Witness the purple-hued Pennisetum setaceum, or the gorgeously attired spikelets of Schizachyrium scoparium, whose reddish anthers and stigma dangle from tightly closed glumes.
|Hordeum jubatum (Foxtail Barley)|
Or stare in astonishment at the purplish inflorescence of Hordeum jubatum, which looks like the tail of some fanciful faerie tale creature, while the attractive white flowers of Phalaris arundinacea welcomes the visits of enthusiastic hoverflies.
And what can anyone do but marvel at the strange spikelets of Calamagrostis acutiflora, which look like futuristic streamlined spaceships! ;-)
|A nightmarish visage|
If you've never seen such merchandize, then let me assure you they sometimes really do look creepy, and quite a fitting decoration for a tradition that was once a Celtic celebration to ward off ghosts.
Image: Courtesy of 刘伟
I am not especially enamored of Pennisetum, but no one can deny that the flowerheads of these grasses are usually very pretty, which makes it a favorite ornamental.
Here 刘伟 lines up quite a few samples for our delectation (from left to right):
Pennisetum macrourum, P. setaceum 'rubrum', P. setaceum ‘Rueppelii’, P. orientale 'Tall', P. alopecuroides 'Purple', P. alopecuroides ‘Viridescens’, P. alopecuroides 'Hamelin'
While traveling later after a visit to Bandelier National Monument, we stopped to view some scenery at a small hilltop. While the wife went off to find a nice viewpoint, I wandered around in wonder at the dried whitish grasses that stood like ancient sentinels on top of the small hill.
One grass in particular looked fantastic in the light of dusk, and with the help of L. Pilkington in a grass identification group, I determined that it was indeed my old friend from White Sands.
This C3 perennial bunchgrass is a native to the area, and can survive in quite a range of environments, from desert to pine forests. In other words, it is like many other grasses in its inherent adaptability, although it does particularly well in sandy soil, using it roots to anchor the particles together.
I'd also like to suggest that it would make a great ornamental, at least in its dried state, and in the dusk ;-)
In Fall of 2019 I visited the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico to view some of the tenacious grasses that thrived in this relatively inhospitable environment.
While dropping by the visitor center of that park I was met by a wonderful sight. All by its lonesome on one of the pebble strewn islands that marked the boundary of the center was a single plant. It stood straight and tall, the white flowerheads above it gently waving in the breeze.
It was not an ornamental, planted by some gardener, but a wayward seed that had sprouted and grown into a mature plant, struggling past the pebbles and flourishing in the light.
Winter is coming, and now I have a new houseplant.
It started as one culm, a single leaf blade coming out of the ground. But fairly soon the tiny pot that it called home was filled with red-green leaves.
Meet my new houseplant. Japanese Blood Grass. Cogon Grass. Imperata cylindrica.
How weird is that? ;-)
As many of the Orang Poa (Grass People) know, the unit of reproduction in grasses is the spikelet. The spikelet contains the florets ("flowers") of the grass, and of course the florets (like any flower) contain the stamens (male) and pistils (female).
In the case of S. scoparium, the spikelets form a complex little unit with many parts.
Pairs of spikelets run along the axis of the raceme of the inflorescence. Each pair is composed of 2 spikelets (see image below).
The smaller spikelet in the pair sits on top of a pedicel, and is rudimentary and hairy. The larger and fertile spikelet is sessile, with two structures called glumes completely covering the two florets inside. One of the florets is sterile, while the fertile floret has a long bent awn that extends from its central nerve and extends out of the glumes. You can see the bent awn of the fertile floret in the image below, but the rest of the floret is hidden inside the enclosing glumes.