Grasses Have Flowers Too

According to my itchy eyes, we are in peak blooming season for warm-season grasses. The subtle beauty of grass flowers mirrors that of the prairies they inhabit. Since their pollen is carried by the wind, grasses don’t have to spend energy creating fancy petals and sepals to attract pollinator insects. Regardless, the flowers of grasses are both pretty and functional, especially if you take the time to examine them closely.

This big bluestem plant (Andropogon gerardii) was blooming yesterday at our Platte River Prairies, along with many of its cousins. Some warm-season grasses are nearly done flowering, but others, like Indiangrass, are just getting started.

Pollen is encased within (usually) colorful anthers, attached to long filaments. Feathery stigmas catch wind-borne pollen from other plants. The combination is effective, without being extravagant. While grasses don’t rely on insects to carry pollen from plant to plant, some insects do feed on the pollen of grasses, including bees and flies, but also beetles, grasshoppers, tree crickets, and others. As far as I know, those insects are mostly just stealing pollen without providing any benefit back to the grass plant, but grasses seem to produce enough to share.

Here is a selection of grass flower photos, taken over the last couple of years. I hope you enjoy them, especially if you’ve never looked closely at these common species and their flowers.

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Tree crickets are big consumers of pollen, both on grasses and insect pollinated plants. This one is feeding on the pollen of prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata).
This tree cricket is pretty well matched with the colors of these prairie sand reed (Calamovilfa longifolia) flowers.
Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) produces a beautiful combination of golds and yellows.
A hover fly feeding on Indiangrass pollen.
Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)
Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) blooms during the month it’s named for.
I think this is western wheatgrass (Paspopyrum smithii).
Big bluestem.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

8 thoughts on “Grasses Have Flowers Too

  1. Thanks for this celebration of beautiful native grasses…..so under appreciated normally…..Visiting Nebraska and Kansas a few years ago, I was wondrous at a field of Indian Grass in bloom…..and loved walk amongst the Big Bluestem taller than myself….awesome! Thanks again for a chance to share with you.

  2. Great close-ups. While I was aware that grasses flower, I don’t have the technology to get closeup photos so it was great to see yours.

  3. My favorite blooming grass had always been undiagnosed, but earlier this summer while I was gathering seed on my prairie hills I spent a long time in the company of prairie junegrass. I have a new favorite.

  4. I still remember the first time I used my macro lens for “just a stem of grass” and the amazement I experienced when I saw those details. You’ve captured that hidden world beautifully.

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