Friday 28 October 2016

Pretty blue-eyed grass is a doubtful native

Gerry Daly

Published 23/08/2015 | 02:30

BLUE-EYED GRASS: Pale-yellow species from Chile
BLUE-EYED GRASS: Pale-yellow species from Chile

Blue-eyed grass and its relation, yellow-eyed grass, are in flower these days and have been for a while. In many instances, they have begun to form seeds.

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Blue-eyed grass is generally a small grassy plant, about 20cm tall, but it can be taller. It may be a very rare native plant that otherwise occurs only in North America. It occurs in the west of the country on stony lake shores and hardly at all elsewhere. The jury is still out, and has been for about a century, and it is mostly classed as possibly introduced.

Not that it greatly matters whether it is a true native or not, but it would be a nice story if it occurred both here and in North America. In any case, it is a pretty garden flower, dainty of appearance but quite robust. It survives tenaciously in gardens by shedding lots of seeds and popping up here and there in new places.

It looks like a miniature version of an iris and this is no coincidence because it is a member of the iris family. It looks well growing at the front of a bed or in a rock garden.

There is also a yellow-flowered species of similar, or ever smaller size, that came originally from California, and there is no argument about its origin. It is very pretty in flower, the bright yellow flowers lasting a few weeks before the green seed-pods begin to form. These later shed black seeds which find their way to new spaces.

It might sound problematic, but the plant is not a weedy or aggressive spreader and does enough to simply maintain a presence, and if it floats around, it is a bonus.

There is a larger species, Sisyrhinchium striatum, from Chile and Argentina, which sometimes goes under the unflattering name of 'pigroot', but it is an excellent garden flower. It also has spiky iris-type evergreen leaves, much bigger and broader than the smaller species, reaching generally about 40 to 50cm.

It sends up a cluster of rigidly upright flower stems that collectively give a lift to a bed or border, much as lupins or red-hot poker do, although on a smaller scale. The pale primrose yellow flowers are carried on the top half of each stem in neat clusters. While the effect is not brightly colourful, it is very effective.

This plant is best planted in a grouping, or a winding drift, to get the full effect.

It flowers for a few weeks and the seed-heads carry on the upright accent into late autumn and winter. The seed-heads shed masses of small black seeds that spread to new places, and the result can be a charming cottage-garden look. Otherwise, if the random seedlings are not wanted, just snip away the seed-heads before seeds are shed.

Sunday Independent

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