Plant of the Week: Lace Grass

The natural community type for lace grass (Eragrostis capillaris) are oak barrens and hillside prairies. Hillside prairies are natural grassland communities that occur on moderate to steep exposed slopes, usually found on the crest of hills surrounded by oak forests. These communities nearly always live on southwest-facing slopes that provide them with ample drainage and direct sunlight. Due to the steep slopes and lots of soil erosion, other large herbaceous plants cannot take hold, leaving plenty of bare ground for lace grass to set down roots and thrive.

Photo by David Goodman.

Although native to the lower 48 states, lace grass is quite rare in the wild today. Going out in the field to document and observe these wild populations has never been more important. The New York Flora Association website lists that lace grass has also been documented growing in disturbed sites in a handful of local New York counties including The Bronx, Kings, and Nassau County. The disturbed landscape preferred by lace grass is almost an exact match to the conditions at the High Line's northern end. The similar characteristics include abandoned railway, sandy loam soils mixed with gravel and south-facing slopes.

Photo by David Goodman.

After most annual grasses have flowered, gone to seed and winterized for the season, lace grass is just coming into its grandeur. With its delicate lacy, wind-dispersed seeds, this profuse self-seeder will readily move around the garden. It takes two million lace grass seeds to make a one-pound bag. The inflorescence type for grasses, what we typically call the "flower," is called a spikelet. Botanists use the characteristics of the spikelets to distinguish between different species of grasses. Eragrostis capillaris is an annual grass with very fibrous roots and spikelets with 2-5 florets. Eragrostis spectabilis can be distinguished from Eragrostis capillaris because it is a perennial grass with a knobby rhizome and spikelets with 6-12 florets. The main identifying characteristics of Eragrostis capillaris is that it has elongate capillary pedicel; tiny flowers are located on side branches of the main flowering axis.

This very versatile grass can be planted alone, en masse or mixed with Penstemon digitalis, Kalimeris incisa, and my favorite, Scutellaria incana. Also, use for erosion control on hills, grasses help to hold soil in place and prevent erosion by their fibrous underground roots. Lace grass tolerates dry and wet soils while growing one to three feet in full sun.

Eragrostis capillaris can bloom well into December, making it welcome in any fall lover's garden. You can find lace grass on the High Line at the northernmost end of the park, at 34th Street Entry Plaza and the CSX Transportation Gate.

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