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May 2006: Featured Plants - Blue-eyed-grasses
Sisyrinchium angustafolium: Blue Narrowleaf Blue-eyed-grass
Sisyrinchium angustafolium: White Narrowleaf Blue-eyed-grass
Sisyrinchium rosulatum: Bell-flower Blue-eyed-grass

Sisyrinchium angustafolium plant
Sisyrinchium rosulatum plant

The genus Sisyrinchium Linnaeus has the common name Blue-eyed-grass. It has about 80 species world wide, 37 in the The Flora of North America. Most species are perennials with blue flowers; all have grass-like foliage. They are members of the Iridaceae (Iris Family). I just love this genus. They are elegant plants combining all of the most interesting features of the Iridaceae in a compact plant. They do well in shade to part sun, most can grow in wetlands, and are interesting virtually all year. They flower in Spring and sporadically through the summer, attractive mostly to small bees, and produce small spherical capsules with many small seed. Most do die back almost in late summer but grow back starting in late autumn. Highly recommended and worth trying at least as a potted plant. Warning: one of the many monocots that are a beloved forage crop for felines.

Sisyrinchium angustifolium, on the left, has wide stems and has few branches. There are colonies of plants with blue flowers and colonies of plants with (inset) white flowers. Intermediate colors are not seen, suggesting that the two color morphs are not capable of interbreeding (and are thus two species according to the biological species definition) or they always self pollinate (unlikely). We sell seed from plants of both flower colors, which should bred true and produce plants with the same color flower.

Sisyrinchium rosulatum, on the right, has pale-purple flowers in April and May and has many stems per plant. I discovered two plants several years ago in a ditch along with a Pennstemon pallidus and rescued all three from the mowers. This accession is clearly a perennial, and with two other odd characters, this led me nowhere in the keys, even the excellent one by Anita Cholewa and Douglass Henderson in The Flora of North America. Dr. Cholewa kindly identified it as Sisyrinchium rosulatum, which is otherwise known as an annual to a weak perennial, but whose flower has a bell-flower-like base peculiar to only this species and a smaller species, Sisyrinchium minus. My wishful thinking that I had discovered a new species probably blinded me to the more probable reality clearly evident, at least after the fact, in the keys and the descriptions; these plants merely have a difference in their life history. This is occasionally seen in the individuals in other taxa due to either different environments or genetics. But I still think it interestingly different from others of its species. A very nice plant that can be a weed in lawns (hense one of its common names), which I am anxious to see! The two plants have certainly produced lots of seedlings in part sun and bog conditions, so be careful!
Images by Wayne Hughes and Glenn Galau ©