Leonard loves grasses, especially native species. I must admit that grasses excite me less than wildflowers, trees, or even fungi. However, as my daughter once remarked, “If you hang around Leonard long enough you learn about and begin to appreciate grasses, whether you want to or not!”
Grasses lack the colorful flowers used by wildflowers to attract the insects that aid in pollination. The very small flowers of grasses are specialized for wind pollination. Grass flowers lack petals and sepals. Their anthers (pollen bearing parts of the male reproductive organ) are large and produce great amounts of wind-scattered pollen. The style (part of the female reproductive organ) is long and feathery, suitable for gathering pollen from the air. It takes a bit more effort, but a close inspection of grass flowers shows them to be as varied and attractive as any wildflower. Usually pollen is released either before or after a plant’s styles are receptive. This timing prevents self-pollination.
One-spike oatgrass (Danthonia unispicata) is a native perennial that grows on rocky slopes and dry meadows. Also commonly called few-flower oatgrass or one-spike danthonia, this bunchgrass (grows in clumps) has a low requirement for water. It can be found in the West from British Columbia to Montana south to California and Colorado as well as in South Dakota.
One-spike oatgrass is a low, densely tufted plant with fuzzy, dull green leaves. The sheath covering the stem has long, dense hairs. At the tip of the stem is one, or occasionally two, spikelet (the basic “flower” unit).
Although most of us tend to overlook grasses in favor of the more glamorous wildflowers, they are certainly more useful to man than the wildflowers. Grasses such as cereal grains (wheat, rice, oats, barley, etc.) and sugar cane are important food sources. Grasses provide materials for weaving and construction. Livestock forage on grasses, while wild animals depend on grasses for food, shelter and habitat. Grass turf helps control erosion. And humans find many grass species attractive for landscaping. Although one-spike oatgrass has no human food uses, its protein content is moderate, making this oatgrass fair forage for wild and domestic animals.
The genus Danthonia honors Etienne Danthione, a French botanist who in the early 19th Century wrote an unpublished book about the grasses of the Marseille region.
These one-spiked oatgrass plants were photographed in an uncultivated field along County Road 87 near Adin CA.