Although Leonard is very good at identifying grasses, to me they all look very similar and so I usually pay them little attention. Plus there is an entirely different vocabulary used to describe grasses. Occasionally though a grass has such a striking appearance that it does pique my interest. Hiking along the Blue Gravel Mine Trail in Redding CA, we discovered areas where large quaking-grass (Briza maxima) has naturalized. This was a grass I could not walk past.
Large quaking-grass is a native of Eurasia. An annual, this grass is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental. It has escaped and established itself in various parts of the United States, particularly California. Large quaking-grass is considered invasive or noxious when naturalized.
The culm (stem) of large quaking-grass is erect and grows from 1 to 2 feet in height. There are a few flat blades (expanded portion of leaves) that have a noticeable twist. The panicle (central axis that bears pedicled or stalked spikelets) is drooping. The inflorescence (flowering portion) consists of up to ten spikelets (basic unit of the inflorescence). Each spikelet is ovate in shape and consists of overlapping layers with a seed held in each layer. The pedicels are hairlike and also droop allowing the spikelets to flutter in the wind, hence the common name quaking-grass.
The odd, inflated-looking spikelets tend to resemble the rattles of a rattlesnake, thus this plant is often called rattlesnake grass, although that appellation is also applied to a member of the Bromus genus that also has spikelets that resemble rattles. Blowfly grass is another common name for large quaking-grass because someone thought the spikelets resembled a blowfly. That I have a hard time visualizing.
Large quaking-grass is poor livestock forage.
The genus name, Briza, means a kind of grain in Greek. In turn the name for the grain, briza, derives from “brizein” – to nod. “Maxima” is Latin for large.
There is another quaking-grass called small quaking-grass (Briza minor) that is often found growing in conjunction with Briza major. Both plants generally flower and seed at the same time. The main difference in the two plants is that large quaking-grass has fewer and larger spikelets (10 to 20 mm in length) than small quaking-grass spikelets (4 to 5 mm long). Although both species were growing together along the Blue Grave Mine Trail I only photographed the larger species. Now I hope to return and give small quaking-grass its due attention.