Monday, September 23, 2019

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) Heaven in New Hampshire


Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)

I've always had a soft spot for Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem). Not only is this species quite handsome (with some cultivars making the transition to spectacularly beautiful), but this was one of the major components of the tall grass prairies that you used to dominate the American landscape, before settlers originally from Europe arrived and converted the rich lands to another type of grassland (maize fields).

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem)
Little Bluestem on roadway
The first time I encountered Schizachyrium scoparium was in the White Sands Monument in New Mexico, where I stumbled on individual specimens. But on a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, I finally saw entire fields of the grass.

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Little Bluestem creating carpet along side of road
Schizachyrium scoparium dominated many of the roadsides in the area, the straight and tall grass forming red monoculture carpets on the sides of highways and local streets.

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Little Bluestem carpet a scenic view lot
This was very evident along route 302 from the town of Caroll to Crawford Notch State Park, and even in the islands and sides of Interstate 93. Schizachyrium scoparium was also present along Main Street of the town of Lincoln, NH, especially near the entranceway to Interstate 93.

I even found S.scoparium lining the steel barriers along a railroad track!

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Little Bluestem along railroad tracks
It was obvious that masses of the grass along the roadside were regularly mowed. Some of the mowed grass had  a reddish tinge to them, and in some areas single blades of Little Bluestem that had been missed by the mower rose into the roadway like lonely sentinels.

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Unmowed Little Bluestem along Main Street
The species was noticeably absent in deep forest, as well as in higher elevation areas, although I found a few specimens slightly into the UNH Trail along State Route 122, east of Lincoln.

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Red culm of Little Bluestem
Little Bluestem is also fairly easy to identify. It stands up to around 1 meter tall, with thin erect blades and reddish culms (at least in the Autumn).

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Ligule of Little Bluestem
The ligule is membranous, and the fluffy white seed heads that rise in zip zag fashion is another identifier of the species.

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Seedheads of Little Bluestem
The anthers and feathery stigmas are purplish in color and quite tiny, perhaps at most 2 mm in length. I had a great time taking in situ macro shots of the beautiful spikelets,with the sharp pointed glumes.

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass

Schizachyrium scoparium - Little Bluestem Grass
Stigma and Anthers of Little Bluestem
All in all, I had a great time documenting the presence of this species in the White Mountains area of New Hampshire, and I noticed that Little Bluestem was still prevalent as you made your way south along Interstate 93 and other highways, with remnants showing up in Connecticut as well.

It is a handsome species, and I can only imagine with longing what immense fields of this and other tallgrass prairies plants must have looked like before the coming of the Empire of Maize ;-)

Little Bluestem on side of road


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