NARROW-LEAVED BLUE-EYED GRASS

When I retired eleven years ago I decided that our new home would not have a lawn that required care. No verdant landscape rolling toward the horizon for me!

Here in Deering, on Hedgehog Mountain, what passes for soil is sand and is definitely on the acidic side. Just as well I didn’t want a lawn to mow because where we live, our little piece of heaven, is not a good bet for a grassy lawn anyway.

What we do have, though is a meadow of sorts. Not a lot of grass, but lots of flowering plants come up through the season. Pollinators love it.

One of the niftier North American native plants that flowers this time of year is narrow-leaved blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium. Our plants stand maybe ten inches tall and have narrow, grass-like leaves. Pretty deep blue, star-like flowers having six points arise in succession at the tips of the branches. Usually about three flower buds occur at the end of a stem, but buds open in succession — not at the same time — and remain open for a day or less, never at night. Thus the time window for pollination is rather small, but this is made up for by the continuing succession of flowers from May through midsummer. Without the flowers it would be difficult to recognize the plant as anything other than a grass, but Sisyrinchium is a genus of the Iris family.

On-line pictures of blue-eyed grass show the plants growing in dense clusters. Not so here. Blue-eyed grass prefers moist habitats, where it can be seen to be quite exuberant. Maybe it’s our nasty soil, but for us the plants are abundant, but are typically scattered. They are perennial from a rhizome, and reproduce by seed. The fibrous rhizomes store food. The capsule contains three seeds.

The profuse blooms of Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed grass attract a variety of pollinators including sweat bees, bumble bees, bee flies, and syrphid flies as well as spring butterflies such as the lovely blue Azures. Their seeds provide food for songbirds. Native Americans cooked and ate the spring greens and used the plant medicinally “to regulate” the bowels and treat diarrhea, and made a plant tea to treat stomach aches, but it seems far too lovely to eat!

The plant can be propagated and can make a nice addition to your garden, for those who make a distinction between ‘garden’ and ‘not garden.’

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