Friday, December 24, 2010

Native Plant of the Week: Bottlebrush Grass ~ Elymus hystrix (Hystrix patula)

Bottlebrush Grass ~ Elymus hystrix (Hystrix patula)


Bottlebrush grass is aptly named for its long floral spikes that resemble a bottle brush. This grass is one of the most shade tolerant tall native grasses. It can be found growing in woodland understories as well as along the edges of woodlands or savannas in partial shade on upland sites.

The lemmas at the base of the pairs of spikelets are white to gray-green in color which helps make the spikes stand out in shady locations.

The leaf blades of this grass are a nice blue-gray in color about an half inch in width. Bottlebrush grass grows from 30 to 60 inches in height, depending on the type of soil. It is a fairly upright grass in habit, the lower blades can be floppy but the flower stalks are sturdy and stay erect into the fall.

The leaf blades can be heavily browsed upon by deer, rabbits and even dogs. My dog seeks out this grass in our yard over any other grass or sedge. I will sometimes place some chicken wire around the base until the grass starts to flower in late June/early July. I would guess that it is also used as a livestock forage.

Northern Pearly Eye Butterfly
Enodia antedon
According to the Illinois Wildflowers website the caterpillars of the Northern Pearly Eye butterfly (Enodia anthedon) feed on this grass. Also two types of moths, Cosmiotes illectella and Leucania pseudargyria.

You will most often see the Northern Pearly Eye in shaded habitats perched on tree trunks and fluttering through the understory fairly low to the ground. The caterpillar is light green with two reddish horns on its head and rear.

Bottlebrush grass is native to the United States from South Dakota south to Kansas and eastwards.

There are a couple of defined varieties, E. hystrix var. hystrix and E. hystrix var. bigeloviana. The latter has pubescent lemmas. (Illinois Wildflowers)

Bottlebrush grass can be found for sale at many native plant nurseries. Seed and plugs are availble from Prairie Moon Nursery, 3 inch pots from Natural Shore Technologies, and 1 gallon pots from Outback Nursery.