Thursday, November 13, 2008
Backlit Bunch Grass
This is one of those topics where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I worked in a geographic support position for a team of zoologists, botanists, and plant ecologists back in the late 1980s. I loved learning from them whenever I could, especially when I could talk my way onto a rare field trip with them into the natural areas of California. But I am without real authority on the topics, and am simply a lay-natural historian, if anything. In starting this post, I ended up on a hour-long internet browse that ultimately had me surprised to see a few familiar names on a current staff list of the old work unit. But I didn't come up with the factoid I was looking for.
I will assert that this is a photograph of some variety of California native bunchgrass. Europeans commonly call their own related natives "tussock" grass. I was looking for online verification of a vague belief I seem to carry in my brain, that native grasses now comprise only about ten percent of the wild grasses we see in California today, by volume. These natives are actually perennial plants with astonishingly deep roots and long lives. The annual grasses that dominate our hills and valleys are exotics from Mediterranean Europe, which originated with the Spanish conquest and their introduction of cattle ranching here hundreds of years ago.
The bunchgrasses I'm claiming you see here are sitting right in the bed of Baechtel Creek, southwest of Willits along Muir Mill Road, one of the many feeder streams in the Outlet Creek watershed. I photographed them before our most recent rains came, and this winter they will be periodically inundated well over their heads with rainstorm water. There was only a trickle of water wending its way through these tufts in October. Annual grasses don't do so well in such a cycle.
If you are a botanist passing by this page and can correct me on this identification, please leave a comment. I realize I'm using casual language, but that's what I do. It could be that the abundant plants here are the product of a restoration project.