Pain in the grass

By on February 26, 2014

Nature Notes,  Al Spoo

Nature Notes, Al Spoo

There are several grasses that were introduced to our country either by accident or on purpose which have become troublesome weeds. The first is widespread and very common. Japanese brome, bromus japonicus, is a native grass of Eurasia and this is where it should have stayed. It is an annual and must reseed itself every year and if cut before it forms seeds it can be eliminated.

It is a member of the grass family known as Poaceae and grows nearly anywhere from dry or moist places along roadsides, fields and in disturbed sites. A few plants soon become a mass of weedy grass that forms large colonies. This grass grows to a height of about three feet and the general appearance of the plant is that it reminds one of oats (Fig. 1), in fact some people call it oats grass or wild oats, but it is not wild oats. The blades are flat, pointed and have a midrib in the center of each of them and vary upon growing conditions to a length of three to six inches and are a half to three quarters wide. It is in flower stage from May to mid July and after this it goes into seed that looks like standing grain. The fruit is like typical grains of wheat barley and oats and the heads (Fig. 2) are formed by overlapping scales with a bristle on each scale (Fig. 3) .

The seeds are not stickseeds like Bidens or enchanters nightshade, but are just as bad. They are little grain heads about three to six inches long and contain chaffs that are pointed and readily penetrate your socks and clothing and can be carried by this means where they drop off and germinate in new areas.

It has other names such as Japanese chess or culms. It may stand erect, but if weighted down by rains will lay almost flat to the ground. It does have some virtues – it serves as a grazing grass that may benefit cattle. Quail, pheasants and turkeys often eat the grain itself.

The second grass in this study is Stilt grass, Microstegium vimineum (Fig. 4). It is an annual native of Japan, the Philippines, China and parts of the Middle East that was accidentally introduced around 1919 into Tennessee. It is thought to have come here from China because the hay of it had been used to pack porcelain for shipping. In the past century it has spread throughout much of the Southeastern states and now has claimed home in 26 of them.

It grows in either sun or deep shade, and in marshes, but will not grow in standing water. It also grows in drier woodlands and roadsides and is an upright grass that reaches two to three feet tall. The narrow, flexible leaves (Fig. 5) always have a silvery colored midrib and grow opposite on the main stem, which may stand erect, but is often bent over close to the ground. When lying prostrate it may root at the nodes where they are touching the soil.

It flowers in late summer and produces its seeds soon afterward. The seeds are inconspicuous and are colored reddish or yellow. Deer have a dislike for the taste of it, but may spread it by avoiding it and eating other plants and by so doing they increase an area that without competition is suitable for it to spread.

It is seasonal and freezes in wintertime, but the seeds overwinter to germinate in spring. Since it is nearly impossible to eradicate, the best way of controlling it is to use an herbicide that is suitable for killing crab grass.

It has few virtues – even most gazing animals will not eat it – but the soft, flexible straw of it has been used as a packing material for many years in the Orient.

Al Spoo is a longtime Rothsville resident and has had a lifelong interest in wildlife and insects. He was the first prize winner of the Lancaster County Science Fair in 1953. He frequently lectures and speaks to schools, clubs and other organizations. If you have a question for Al, he can be reached at 626-2684, or by e-mail at

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