Our summer is rushing along, as summers usually do. With the abundant rains this year, grasses are growing profusely and the grass flowers have been a treat to see. If you ask most people, they will say that grasses don’t have flowers. It all depends on what you consider a flower. The common notion is that a flower has to be colorful and showy. That’s fine if the flower is pollinated by an insect or other animal, but wind-pollinated flowers don’t bother with all that extravagant use of resources. Their flowers are the most basic models – tiny petals or none at all, no scents, no nectar. The wind doesn’t work any better with those things than it does without. All it takes to be a flower is a stamen or a carpel, and grass flowers have both – one to three stamens and a two-carpellate pistil usually.
I’ve been asked what grass flowers look like, and that’s a good question. Without a hand lens or other magnifier, it is hard to see them at all. Basically grass flowers form within a series of bracts – small modified leaves, which are usually green. This little package of flowers and bracts is called a spikelet. Each spikelet can have one to several flowers + bracts stacked together. When the flower is mature, a pair of little scales (the lodicule) at the base of the ovary swells and prys the stack of bracts apart. The stamens, typically three of them, dangle out on long, flexible filaments. The anthers are large compared to the size of the whole flower. They have to be to shed enough pollen. Wind tends to scatter pollen and dilute it. The stamens are the easiest part of the grass flower to see. The pistil typically has two styles and two feathery stigmas. If you would like more details on grass flowers see http://www.backyardnature.net/fl_grass.htm
The grass family is one of the largest of the flowering plant families, so my photos show only a tiny fraction of the variety of grass flowers. It’s another good challenge for field work – find the grass flowers. Happy hunting!