Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Southwestern bristlegrass

with 22 comments

I think you can see why this grass that I photographed on a field trip to the Cedar Stump Ranch on October 16 is called southwestern bristlegrass (Setaria scheelei). If there were no spaces between the clumps of bristles, this two-dimensional view might make you think you’re looking at a long feather.

Today marks the first appearance of southwestern bristlegrass in these pages.

Southwestern Bristlegrass Seed Head 7396

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 4, 2015 at 4:58 AM

22 Responses

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  1. This is a beauty. Like so many plants, this stage of life is as striking as its earlier growth. I was surprised to learn how tall it is; a field filled with it must be quite a sight. I like the way the slight curve in this stem complements the bundles of bristles.

    I figured out how to find it on the BONAP site, and the distribution they show agrees with the USDA map. I’ll put this one on my list of things to look for farther west.


    November 4, 2015 at 7:21 AM

    • It is a beauty, and I was glad to be in the company of an expert who identified it for the field trip’s participants. The long and slender S-curve that you mentioned appeals to me, too, though I’m not sure if I noticed it at the time I took the picture; it might have been, as often happens, a feature I observed for the first time once I had a large version of the photograph up on my computer screen.

      The page about this grass at the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes that “it has cheery seedheads sometimes referred to as foxtails.” Let’s hope you’re cheered by it when you take one of your periodic trips farther west.

      The genus name is based on Latin saeta or seta, which meant ‘a thick, stiff hair; a bristle.’

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2015 at 7:40 AM

  2. Get one of those up your pants and you will be shaking a leg.

    Jim in IA

    November 4, 2015 at 7:39 AM

    • My association with shaking the legs of my pants is a hasty attempt to get rid of fire ants that have started biting my legs. I think I’d prefer one of these grass seed heads.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2015 at 7:53 AM

  3. Amen to that~fire ants are horrific. This grass is not, though. If I remember correctly, Setae means bristles. Oh wait, I see in the comments above you just said that.


    November 4, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    • I’d have done better to put the derivation of the genus name in the post’s text rather than in a comment, but I’m glad you noticed it there.

      We have plenty of attractive native grasses here, and I imagine you do in Illinois, too, which you’ve mentioned was a part of the tallgrass prairies that once covered so much of the central part of the continent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2015 at 9:22 AM

  4. What a wonderful bristle brush this would make, unless of course it is very brittle.


    November 5, 2015 at 3:18 AM

  5. Love that grass, not to mention the photograph.

    Kathy Comer

    November 5, 2015 at 8:59 AM

  6. When I was a kid we could have used that to clean our radiators….or bottles. Now I’d use it to clean the coils of our refrigerator.
    Did you purposely line up the upper part with that similarly shaped shadow?

    Steve Gingold

    November 5, 2015 at 6:13 PM

    • I once had a half-interest in a car whose radiator sprang a leak. My roommate (the other half-owner) plugged the hole with a chicken feather he found on the ground nearby.

      When I took this picture I did try to line up the seed head with a part of the background that made it look good. I think I succeeded better than I realized.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 5, 2015 at 7:02 PM

  7. A very striking shot and does look bristly.


    November 6, 2015 at 2:15 AM

    • In a different part of the biological world, you’ve reminded me that the Spanish word cerdo ‘pig, hog’ is based on cerda ‘bristle,’ from the fact that hogs have bristly hairs on them. Cerda had developed from Vulgar Latin *cirra ‘a tuft of hair in an animal’s mane,’ the feminine of the Latin cirrus that meant ‘lock, curl, tuft of hair’ in general and ‘the hair on the forehead of a horse’ in particular.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2015 at 6:17 AM

  8. The bristle grass photo is stunning Steve! The way the colours softly change in the background really adds to the photo. This would be the perfect photo on a long narrow wall somewhere! 🙂


    November 8, 2015 at 4:08 PM

    • Thanks, Inger. Like you, I’m fond of the way the soft colors in the background contrast with the bristly and linear character of the seed head. I like your suggestion about putting this image on a high and narrow wall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2015 at 5:26 PM

  9. Stunning creation – both plant and photo!


    November 13, 2015 at 2:05 PM

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