How to identify grasses?

do you have a model in mind? there are some cheap ones that are really good for kids, but when i looked for one for my own use, they seemed relatively underpowered compared to the results you could get with a camera or phone with a good macro lens (because modern cameras and phones have so much higher resolution sensors). i also thought this kind of rig was really interesting, though i’ve never built one myself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpMTkr_aiYU. (this talks about removing a lens from a cheap laser pointer, but you can get just the lenses by themselves these days in the era of internet commerce.)

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I am in luck, my friends. I found a regional key. Now to look a little harder for one that isn’t 20 years old and maybe even in English…

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I don’t know, but my only requirements are

  1. Won’t fall apart the moment I get it
  2. Can take photos (via the phone’s camera app or whatever)
  3. At least 25x magnification

I do love iNat A LOT but there’s only so much money I’m willing to sink into my hobby / volunteer work.

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20 years is not that old for a botany text. Those illustrations look great too!

That said it will be tricky to use unless you can read that language (Hebrew?)

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Yeah, I do figure that not TOO much will have changed and it can at least get me to Genus dependably.

And I am indeed bilingual ;)

I’m an immigrant to Israel (grew up in America), but I’m from an Orthodox Jewish background so I was taught Hebrew alongside English. Four and a half years in Israel (two of which I was in the Israeli army doing a secret but language-heavy job) have brought my colloquial Hebrew to fluent level.
My technical/botanical Hebrew, on the other hand, needs a lot of work, but what better way to practice?

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I’d like to suggest that you do your best to find any flower heads, new, or old, and take pictures of the whole plant in flower / seed, then the whole flower head, then detailed photos of the spikelets (the units with seeds / flowers compressed together, and, if you can you might add the detail of the individual seeds (“lemmas”) and the “glumes”, the pair of membranes under the “lemmas” (the lemmas are technically the membranous outer covering of the seeds or flowers. These may or may not have a hair tip or “awn” at the end, that we will want to see, if it has them)

Then, especially if you can’t find any flower heads, I’d want details of the leaves, that include a sheath around the shoot, which is equivalent to the petiole of a broad-leafed plant, then any membranes or hairs where the blade comes away from that sheath. There is usually a membrane. or just some hairs, called the “ligule”, that come up from inside the junction of the sheath and the blade. There may be further finger-like membranes coming away from the base of that junction, that may wrap around the shoot to some degree, called the “auricles”.

I would then want to see the base of the sheaths and shoots, where they come up from the ground, and how they come up from the ground. Some will come up straight from the bottom, some will start horizontal, then curve up. I would then want to be able to see the character of any hairs at the bases of the sheaths, if they are hairy, or the color and character of any grooves or stripes at the base. Some species retain old dead leaves at that base more than others. Some species will retain the veins at the bottom of the sheath on older dead leaves leaving a veiny netting at the bottom, that other species lack. I would then want to see if that sheath can be unrolled, and opened from top to bottom, without tearing the sheath. You may not need to open it, but may be able to see that there is one loose end going to the bottom, rather than a sheath that is united into a tube. Some species may then have a united tube sheath until some place before the top, after which it is open. I then want to see how far down it is open, before it becomes united.

I then want to see the top and tip of a blade of a leaf. A view of the bottom side could help too. Some leaves are folded, and have a clear fold going down the center of the blade. These will often have an end with the two halves united at the bottom, like the front of a canoe (or “prow”), some grasses don’t have that fold, then wouldn’t have that “prow”. Some grasses have prominent veins, some don’t. I would want to see the blades well enough to see both any center vein, and the texture of the blade that may have the blade look more textured. I want to see all parts well enough to see how hairy they are, if they have any hairs, from the bases of the sheaths, to the ligules, and possible auricles, at the top of the sheath, then the top side of the blade and bottom side. Some grasses might have darker spots on the blades (I think this is a fungus), noteworthy among them is Schedonarus / Festuca arundinace-us /-a - Tall Fescue, not usually planted intentionally in lawns, but often showing up in them. If you aren’t tuned in to looking for this spots, you are likely to miss them.

Then you may want to gently dig around the bases and see if you can find any rhizomes or stolons. Rhizomes are roots spreading horizontally under the surface from which new shoots come up periodically. Stolons are almost the same, but are runners spreading just above the surface, as strawberries spread by above ground runners.

@sedgequeen did I miss anything? Anything to add to this?

Thanks for asking! I am frustrated every time someone posts a photo of grass without showing, or describing the details I need to identify it, and I’ve wanted to tell them all what I just told you!

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duuuude. Thank you!! It will take some practice, but I’ll try to start paying closer attention to all of these details. And of course to include photographs of them in Observations.

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Great! Feel free to tag me for opinions on the ID’s. I mostly identify observations in the Pacific Northwest of North America, but I’d be happy to see what I can figure out for your Israeli grasses.

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@stewartwechsler – Great list of traits! I’d like to see those things in grass observations, too. Trying to identify grasses on iNaturalist is so frustrating! Many important details aren’t photographed.

Cameras can contribute to the problem. The photographer dutifully tries to get a picture of the seed head, and the camera focuses on the background. So frustrating! I’d advise: If an autofocus camera won’t take clear photos of small things in the foreground, put your hand right next to the plant part and focus on that.

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@sedgequeen Thanks for the additional tip for those autofocus cameras!

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Finally looked this up.

The nearest herbarium is less than half an hour from my apartment, but is listed as “specializing in algae, fungi, and lichens”. Probably still worth visiting…?

The only other one with a recent update on the website is in Jerusalem, which is somewhat over an hour away – not bad for occasional visits, but less convenient.
Though if I’m not mistaken, one of the Jerusalem herbarium curators is active on iNat…

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You can also use Index Herbariorum to get contact information for the curators and often for other researchers and staff. You can e-mail a request for help. I include in the e-mail a link to the observation in question so the recipient can check it quickly, if so inclined.

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Grasses are hard.

I recommend looking up both common grasses occurring in the wild in your region, and ones commonly used in landscaping (there will be some overlap.) You will probably need to consult different sources to look up and learn common larger ornamental grasses from landscaping, from lawn grasses, and yet other sources for the wild grasses.

There are a lot of species to learn, but if you learn the most common ones you can eventually get to where you can ID most of what you see.

Waiting for flowers and fruits can be helpful, as can digging them up and looking at the root structure.

I also strongly recommend, whenever you find a grass you can ID, really exhaustively observe it. Dig it up and look at it with a magnifying glass. Feel the texture of every part of the plant. Come back to observe it at different times of year and see how it changes. Really get to know it. You will find that doing this for a species you have successfully identified, will help you to get better at grass ID…after doing this you might see another species and immediately know: “This is something different.” and you will also eventually start to get an intution…“I think this may be a closely related grass but a different species” and things like this.

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Update:

I’ve been having fun learning. Here is an Avena I ID’d (with lots of help).

And, my mother was visiting (my family lives in the United States) and was kind enough to bring me a usb microscope (which admittedly I’ve not yet used on grasses, but) which ought to help in the long run. An awesome Hannukah gift.

If anyone other than the kind, patient, and helpful sedgequeen and stewartweschler want to volunteer to get tagged (a lot) for help with getting my Poaceae to Genus and/or help with keys, please let me know.

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I don’t think I’m nearly as knowledgable as they are, but I’m a little closer to your latitude (Gulf of Mexico coast) and I enjoy figuring out grasses. (janetwright)

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to be fair, I think that 80% of the iNat user base and 98% of people on the forum know more than I do. any degree of help in any area is much appreciated. :green_heart:

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