While walking along Rock Creek (Shasta County CA) Leonard pointed out some rabbitfoot grass (Polypogon monspeliensis) growing near a seep. (Leonard loves grasses and always makes certain I notice them.)
Rabbitfoot grass is an annual native to Eurasia and Africa that has now spread throughout much of the United States and is found particularly in the West. Primarily a weed, rabbitfoot grass can be found in moist or wet soils at lower elevations and is common around seeps, springs, river and stream beds, ditches, old pastures and meadows. It is not particular about soil type and grows in acid, alkaline and neutral soil.
Grass flowers are small and complex, necessitating a different terminology than their more glamorous cousins, the wildflowers. Identification can be difficult and is often based on structures that require magnification to properly see. I will ignore all the detailed description for now and simply say that rabbitfoot grass, once pointed out, is easy to remember. The mature plant is about 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall and looks yellow-green. The flower part of the grass is a soft, silky, spike-like inflorescence 1″ to 6″ long that sometimes resembles a rabbit’s foot, hence the common name. The small flower groups (spikelets) are crowded together at the end of the stem (culm) and have fine bristles (awns) that give the inflorescence its fuzzy appearance. The narrow leaves often bend abruptly. A shallow root system anchors rabbitfoot grass in place.
A stand of rabbitfoot grass looks pretty with its soft inflorescences, however, it has no commercial value. Livestock will graze rabbitfoot grass a little, particularly in the spring before the awns dry out and become bristly.
The genus name, Polypogon, comes from the Greek “poly” meaning “much or many” and “pogon” meaning “beard” which refers to the bristly inflorescence – hence another common name, beardgrass.