Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Turning red

with 11 comments

Yesterday’s post mentioned that Eastern gamagrass, Tripsacum dactyloides, produces male flowers that vary from yellow to orange in color. As time passes, the orange may deepen to red, which is normal. What’s not normal is the way the flower stalk shown here is strangely twisted. What to make of this I don’t know, but I find it appealing.

In the “Did you know?” department: teratology is the scientific study of abnormal botanical and anatomical formations. Today’s picture is for you, teratologists of the world.

For more information about Tripsacum dactyloides, including a clickable map showing where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2011 at 5:42 AM

11 Responses

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  1. I learned something today – thank you. Were there other unusual specimens in the same area or just this one? Do you imagine the drought could have effected its growth?


    August 15, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    • You’re welcome; I’m always happy to disseminate a new word.

      This was the only deformed eastern gamagrass I saw; all the others in the vicinity were normal. I don’t believe the drought was the cause, because this grass was growing close to the edge of a pond, so its roots would have had access to water.

      More on teratology tomorrow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 15, 2011 at 8:02 AM

  2. Love this perspective! Grasses are definitely more unique and interesting than most people give them credit for.


    August 16, 2011 at 12:48 PM

  3. This flower looks confused to me. I guess the reason was a female, she turned his head.


    August 17, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    • Ah, cherchez la femme! I didn’t know the battle of the sexes extended down to the botanical world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 17, 2011 at 12:19 PM

  4. […] the seed head of eastern gamagrass shown in a recent post was deformed, so was the stalk of the Liatris mucronata plant shown here, which I found growing on […]

  5. Although twisted, this is a normal “complete” eastern gamagrass seed head. The top 2/3 is the male portion with anthers that shed pollen. The bottom 1/3 with the stigmas is the female portion and where the seed set. This is one reason wild-type gamagrass is a low seed producer (mostly male). I see lots of situations like this when we move plants into the greenhouse for cross-breeding. I think the environment can cause this and unless it occurs on every seed-head it is not likely a genetic mutation.

    Professional gamagrass breeder for the USDA


    March 22, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    • Thanks, Jason, for all this information about eastern gamagrass. I was aware of the division into male flowers above and female below, but the twisting seemed strange to me. It’s possible the plant came from stock that had been transported or kept in a greenhouse, or it could have sprung up naturally alongside the pond where I found it. I just don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 22, 2012 at 5:59 PM

  6. Quite confronting, actually. Looks extraterrestrial.

    The World Is My Cuttlefish

    February 23, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    • It certainly looked strange to me, and that’s why I photographed it, in addition to the contrast between the red-orange and the blue. Unfortunately the vegetation around this pond got heavily mowed a couple of years ago, and I don’t think any Eastern gamagrass has come back.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 23, 2014 at 11:43 AM

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