I had the privilege yesterday to participate in a field class on identifying the Texas Hill Country native grasses. The class was held on the Onion Creek Management Unit of the City of Austin’s Water Quality Protection Lands. It was conducted by botanist and Master Naturalist Tom Watson, a Land Steward for this beautiful acreage.
Examining the stolon structure of Curly-Mesquite, Hilaria belanger
When I took the Master Naturalist certification training last year, I was lucky to have several teachers that were very knowledgeable about grasses, and grasses were emphasized all through our training. Even so, it’s a difficult subject that takes a lot of experience to fully master. At best, after nearly a year of training, there were only a handful of the more familiar species I could identify without their flowering inflorescence, which is only present for part of the life cycle. I found this class especially helpful because we spent a lot of time on learning to better identify the structural vegetative features of family Poceae.
A grass everyone is likely to become more familiar with, due to its potential as a source of ethanol: Panicum virgatum, commonly known as switchgrass.
Finally, my favorite: The beautiful Eastern Gamagrass, Tripsacum dactyloides, interesting due to the inflorescence having both separate male and female flowers. The orange stamens are the most easily recognized as they are larger and visible for a longer period of time. The more delicate stigma is visible here, in Tom’s right hand, directly above his index finger.