By Stacie Martin
Between John Williams Way and Midland Valley Trail, two acres of grasslands feature 10 different native graminoids. Graminoids are herbaceous plants with grass-like structures such as leaf blades and include grasses, sedges, and rushes.
Grasses are monocots, meaning the seeds germinate with only one leaf. This Canada wild rye germinates successfully in cool temperatures.
Canada wild rye’s cousin, Virginia wild rye, shines by the ONEOK Boathouse. Virginia wild rye is native, shade tolerant, and will grow in moist sites.
Various types of grasslands occur on every continent, covering an estimated 40% of total land area. Our native grasses can be graceful, colorful, floriferous, and are a favorite when backlit by the sun. You can look at the seeds to identify the different types of grasses.
Blue grama (above) seed heads look like eyebrows early in the season. As the seeds mature, they twist and curl!
Sideoats grama (above) in the parking lot is easy to recognize because all the seeds line up in a row along the side.
Little bluestem (below) have filaments attached to its seeds to assist with wind dispersal.
Once established, native perennial grasses grow deep, fibrous roots. These roots help them become drought tolerant, reduce soil erosion, and add organic matter to the soil. Grasses have large amounts of belowground carbon sequestration and store a high level of nitrogen. Grasses are great soil builders, which has led to many grasslands to be converted to agriculture. Coincidentally, many of our major agriculture crops are also grasses.
Switchgrass is planted in many ornamental beds. Switchgrass roots (below) can grow 8-11 feet deep!
In addition to soil building, native grasses have unique relationships with insects. Many butterflies feed on grasses in their caterpillar stage, and grasses provide habitat for beneficial insects. Predatory ground beetles use grasses, and native grasses can be a “beetle bank” to attract them to prey on unwanted pests.
There are many different types of native grasses, including those that grow in sandy soil, clay soil, and wet soil! Native grasses can be used as turfgrass, in ornamental plant beds, and are an integral part to our prairies. Once established, they need minimal water and an annual cutback before spring.
Muhly grass (above) is quite ornamental in Sky Garden. The purple color comes from its flowers!
Indian grass (below) is a favorite at the entrance of the Park. It provides great habitat for birds but is a large grass used in expansive spaces.