Grass Widow

Grass widow (Olsynium douglasii) is one of the earliest-blooming springtime flowers. A member of the Iris Family, grass widow is a tufted perennial arising from a short rootstock. This native can be found in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. Its ecology is rocky bluffs and meadows that are vernally wet at low and mid elevations.

Grass widow has two types of leaves: the two basal leaves are bract-like while the cauline leaves are long and grass-like with parallel veins.

The reddish-purple grass widow flowers are terminal. The six pointed tepals (structures that are not clearly a sepal or petal) are fused at the base forming a short tube. The tepals have a satiny sheen. The ovary is inferior (lies below the tepals) and there are three stigmas. The three stamens have filaments that are fused about one third to one half of their length. The anthers are yellow.

Grass widow fruits are capsules that break open from the top into three chambers bearing many seeds. A papery septum separates the chambers. The seeds are brown and finely pitted.

David Douglas (1798 – 1834), an early explorer and botanist, is honored by the species name. Originally grass widow was knows as Sisyrinchium douglasii. Recently it was moved into its own genus, Olsynium. The genus was named by C S Rafinesque and is supposed to mean “hardly united”, referring to the partially fused stamens.

Purple-eyed grass, Douglas’ blue-eyed grass and satin flower are other common names for O douglasii.

These grass widow specimens were growing along the Lower Table Rocks Trail near Medford OR (Jackson County) and on the top of the Lower Table Rocks earlier this month.

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2 Responses to Grass Widow

  1. usermattw says:

    I was curious about the name. “Grass widow” is an old-fashioned term for a woman whose husband is away. Perhaps it refers to the same “hardly united” quality as the genus.

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