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Identifying common cool-season perennial pasture grasses

Correctly identifying grasses is important for proper pasture management and to maximize yields and profits.

At first glance, most grasses in the vegetative stage look similar. However, each grass is unique and can be distinguished from other species.

Distinguishing characteristics

Grass collar
Figure 1: Grass collar. Credit: Beverly Durgan.

Most distinguishable characteristics are located in the collar region or area where the leaf blade and stem meet. In the collar region, you can find auricles, ligules and hairs (Figure 1).

Auricles are finger-shaped projections or appendages. They can be absent or present, large or small and may have hair.

A ligule is a thin appendage on the inner surface at the junction of the leaf blade and stem. Ligules can be membranous, hairy or absent. A membranous ligule resembles cellophane because it’s thin and translucent.

Other terminology to identify grasses:

  • Sheath: Lower part of leaf that surrounds or wraps around the stem.

  • Glabrous: Hairless.

  • Pubescent: Soft hairs.

  • Scabrous: Rough surface.

  • Blade: Expanded portion of leaf.

  • Vernation: Arrangement of leaves in an unopened bud or shoot.

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Krishona Martinson, Extension equine specialist

Acknowledgements

Grass collar and seed head photo credits:

  • Sid Bosworth, University of Vermont.

  • Andrew Hollman and Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota.

  • University of Minnesota Strand Memorial Herbarium.

  • Richard Old and Ted Bodner, Bugwood.org.

Reviewed in 2018

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