Puccinellia distans (Weeping Alkaligrass)
|Also known as:||European Alkali Grass, Spreading Alkali Grass|
|Habitat:||sun; moist to wet disturbed soil; roadsides, ditches, fields, gravel pits|
|Fruiting season:||July - August|
|Plant height:||4 to 24 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACW MW: OBL NCNE: FACW|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Panicle 1 to 8 inches long, oval to pyramidal in outline, usually erect, sometimes slightly nodding, the branches mostly spreading with the lower branches often reflexed (downward pointing), and branchlets appressed to the branch. Spikelets (flower clusters) are overlapping on the tip half of a branch, often purplish at flowering time, flattened, oblong to lance-elliptic, 2.5 to 7 mm (to ~¼ inch) long with 2 to 7 florets; the uppermost floret may be sterile.
At the base of a spikelet is a pair of bracts (glumes) that are both blunt to pointed at the tip, awnless, hairless, light green to purplish with transparent whitish edging, obscurely veined, the lower glume .4 to 1.3 mm long, the upper glume .9 to 2 mm long. Surrounding a floret is a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), the lemma 1.5 to 2.2 mm long, slightly longer than the upper glume, green to purplish, obscurely veined, the tip transparent whitish, ragged, and broadly rounded or straight across; the palea is nearly as long as the lemma. The thickened base of the floret (callus) is sparsely covered in short hairs.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are mostly basal with with 2 to 4 alternate leaves mostly on the lower half of the stem. Leaves are up to 4 inches long, 1 to 4 mm wide, hairless, rough-textured, flat though may become rolled along the edges (involute) with age. The sheath is hairless. The ligule (membrane where the leaf blade joins the sheath) is 1 to 2 mm long, straight to somewhat convex across the top edge and lacks a fringe of hairs. Nodes are smooth.
Weeping Alkaligrass is a Eurasian introduction, highly salt-tolerant as evident from where it has been found across North America: salted roadsides and ditches, saline prairies and cow pastures, and usually in wet soils. At this writing, the Bell Herbarium has records from only 6 Minnesota counties but over the past few years we've encountered it along roadsides in several more so it's under-reported in the state, perhaps by a lot.
Weeping Alkaligrass is distinguished by hairless leaves and sheaths; ligule 1 to 2 mm long and more or less straight across; panicle branches spreading with the lowest usually reflexed, branchlets appressed to the branch; spikelets without awns, often purplish at flowering time with 2 to 7 florets; glumes unequal, lemmas usually less than 2 mm long, the tips thin, whitish, straight across to broadly rounded and ragged along the edge.
Most similar is the related Nuttall's Alkaligrass (Puccinellia nuttalliana), which tends to be a taller plant usually with erect stems, has panicle branches spreading to ascending or erect, ligules usually 2 to 3 mm long and pointed at the tip, and lemmas usually more than 2 mm long that are more distinctly pointed at the tip. At a glance Weeping Alkaligrass might be mistaken for the more common Tufted Lovegrass (Eragrostic pectinacea), which has long-hairy ligules and may have long hairs on sheaths.
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Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Chisago, Houston, Kittson and Pine counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?