Grasslands such as prairies, meadows, and savannahs make up nearly a third of the land mass on the planet. Corn, sugar cane, and most of the cereals you eat come from grasses. Grasses use C4 photosynthesis, which in simple terms means they can retain more water and carbon dioxide than other plants.
Since I work with Lynn Holtzman, who has 20 years experience with grasses in western Ohio, I am finally getting a chance to learn some of the species. So I present about two dozen here, by both seed types and other morphological characters, and some of their value to wildlife. See part 2 of Grasses here
Often overlooked is Redtop, Agrostis stolonifera. Sometimes called Bentgrass, it is recognized by the whorled branching, and reddish-purple seedhead that eventually turns brown. In silhouette, it looks like a small Spruce tree. Redtop can grow in a variety of sites and has been used as a forage plant for domestic animals. It is a non-native species introduced from Europe. It does make a good cover plant for birds and small mammals.
Walk through just about any abandoned field around here and you'll come across the dark red to wine colored Purpletop, Tridens flavus. Purpletop makes good forage and is a sought after species for wildlife cover. Various mice and voles feed upon it.
Another crab grass look alike are the Paspalum species. They also have these double rows of beaded seeds. There are usually less spikelets, but the seeds are larger than crab grass.
Paspalm species do not concentrate their spikelets in one area like Crabgrass, but are found throughout the stem in an alternate pattern. The Goosegrass feels flat to the touch. Crabgrass has needle thin spikelets, and this Paspalum is actually three sided.
Phragmites australis, Giant Reed. While there are native Reed grasses, they tend to be intermixed with other plant species. Introduced varieties form these dense colonies or monocultures reaching 15 feet tall. They spread by rhizomes along the roots and crowd out everything else. In one year they can spread 60-80 feet. Phragmites has become a serious invasive in wetlands around the Great Lakes States, including northern Ohio. They will establish an easy foothold in any wet soil, especially ditches. Pulling runners and spraying is required. The plant is rough and abrasive, and yanking just the stems without pulling the roots can result in serious damage to your fingers.
All of these photos can be studied closer by clicking on each one.