Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shakin' all over ....

This summer I'd planned to finally get to grips with identifying grasses, but the soggy state of the countryside hasn't been conducive to spending a lot of time in waterlogged meadows. Still, there are a few grasses that are easy to identify from twenty paces and this is one such: quaking grass Briza media.

You can tell by the way it moves that it's quaking grass, because the slightest breath of wind sends a shiver through those spikelets of florets that are suspended on the finest of stem branches.

There are numerous local names for this species, including didder grass, rattle grass, pearl grass, shivering grass, trembling grass, doddering dickies, doddering dillies, cow quakes, and maiden's-hair but I rather like the name totter grass, which seems to encapsulate its state of permanent instability. The rather more romantic French name for the grass is 'amourettes', on account of those heart-shaped spikets.

If you find that you're standing next to totter, then the chances are that the soil beneath your feet is calcareous and if there's a lot of the species around then you're probably standing in old, unimproved grassland. This is an agricultural habitat that's in decline, thanks to ploughing and reseeding with high yielding forage grasses, so totter isn't as common as it once was. It's an easy and attractive species to grow in gardens though and if  you collect and sow a few ripe seeds in August you could have flowering plants by the following year. It looks good in dried flower arrangements in winter.

These are the spikelets that are aggregations of individual florets, each of which will produce a seed. You can just make out the dangling yellow stamens that shed pollen into the breeze and the feathery white stigmas that catch it - although individual plants are self-incompatible and won't set seed with their own pollen; they must be cross pollinated by another plant.


  1. That grass reminded me of a similar grass which used to grow in the meadows here, but not to be seen anywhere now.

  2. Hi lotusleaf, I'm not sure how widespread this species is ... I know there are some species, like annual meadowgrass, that are more-or-less cosmopolitan...