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Our photographers have been busy exploring the intricacies of the Missouri outdoors. See if you can guess this month’s natural wonder.

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Photo of several big bluestem seed heads against a blue sky.

Big Bluestem (Seed Heads)

Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) is the most famous grass of the tallgrass prairie. Its flowering stalks can reach 8 feet tall. Another common name, “turkey foot,” can help you identify big bluestem: The seed heads usually branch into three parts, resembling turkey feet.

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Photo of Canada wild rye, with green but maturing seed heads.

Canada Wild Rye

Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis) can be identified by its seed heads, which curve downward (it’s sometimes called “nodding wild rye”). As the seeds mature, the straight, long hairlike awns will curve distinctively. This is a common native cool-season grass that reaches about 4 feet tall and is highly valued as forage and hay for livestock.

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Caucasian Bluestem

Bothriochloa bladhii
Causasian bluestem and the closely related yellow bluestem are both aggressive, weedy degraders of pasturelands that escape cultivation and endanger native habitats. Learn more about these Old World grasses, and please don’t plant them!

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Photo of common reed plants in large colony

Common Reed

Phragmites australis australis
Common reed is both native and exotic, but it’s the exotic subspecies that has become an invasive problem. Taking over wetlands with its dense stands, it changes the plant and animal communities and even the way the water flows.

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Photo of common reed plants in large colony

Common Reed (Colony)

Common reed is both native and exotic, but it’s the exotic subspecies that has become an invasive problem. Taking over wetlands with its dense stands, it changes the plant and animal communities and even the way the water flows.

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Photo of common reed showing purplish flowers

Common Reed (Flowers)

Common reed blooms in midsummer and has tawny, purplish flowers with long, silky hairs. The flowers occur in a large, plumelike panicle 6 to 20 inches long.

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Photo of common reed, closeup of leaf collar

Common Reed (Leaf Collar)

In common reed, the leaf collar, or ligule, a small outgrowth where the stem and leaf join, is a ring with dense, stiff hairs.

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Photo of common reed, late-season mature plants

Common Reed (Mature Seedheads)

Common reed occurs in disturbed or pristine wetlands, including shores of ponds and lakes, marshes, springs, riverbanks, roadsides, and ditches. It sets seed by late September.

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Photo of several big bluestem seed heads against a blue sky.

Grasses

All true grasses (species in the grass family).
Missouri has 276 species in the grass family, including well-known crop plants and our native prairie grasses. Distinguishing between the species can be difficult, but it’s easy to learn some basics about the group.

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