Florida Native Grasses and Wildlife: Lopsided Indiangrass

When we talk about grasses, people often think about sod, like Bahiagrass or Bermuda Grass. But how often do people think about grasses as a means for wildlife?

According to Atlas of Florida Plants, the first documentation of Lopsided Indiangrass was in Walton County, October 2, 1950, by E. Tyson. The specimen was collected within a Longleaf pine-oak scrub habitat that consisted of sandy soils. 

Historically wildfires occurred within 1-5 year intervals, and fire has been an essential contributor to the health of grasses, especially for Lopsided Indiangrass. This grass species is dependent on fire, and just like Longleaf pines, it will not produce viable seeds without fire. 

Lopsided Indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum) is one of the more dominant grasses thriving in upland habitats and extremely valuable for wildlife.

There is nothing more beautiful than seeing hundreds of Lopsided Indiangrass swaying in the breeze surrounded by longleaf pine, turkey oaks, saw palmettos, blazing stars, goldenrods, and narrow-leaf silk grass.  It really shows how unique Florida’s landscapes really are.


Knowing the Parts

I am not embarrassed to say that I had no idea that grasses had the same parts as a flower. I never would have known this if I was not curious enough to see what those yellow and orange pieces were. Sometimes being curious opens a whole new world of photographic opportunities.

Lopsided Indiangrass parts | a: awn b: spikelet c: anther d: sessile (stigma) e: inflorescence 

Lopsided Indiangrass is highly beneficial for wildlife and is a host plant for the Delaware skipper (Anatrytone logan), Dusted skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna), and Swarthy skipper (Nastra lherminier). That’s good to know if you are wanting to photograph particular species of butterflies.

Grasses like Lopsided Indiangrass provides food directly and indirectly for wildlife. Birds will not only eat the seeds but also the insects that also forage on the grass. These tall bunch grasses provide cover for many grassland nesting birds, including Bachman’s sparrow, wild turkey, and Bobwhite quail.


A newly learned terminology: photoperiod-based adaptation 

Photoperiodism is an organisms’ ability to adjust its physiology and behavior to seasonal changes in the environment according to the length of day (photoperiod).

An article was written by Scott Pennfield: Notes on Some Characteristics of Lopsided Indiangrass (Sorghastrum secundum), concluded that Lopsided Indiangrass adapted to the soils for thousands of years and how this particular grass species survived all those years was from wildfires.  In his paper, his research conclusion stated:

Over some long period of time (presumably thousands of years) Sorghastrum secundum has adapted to the soils, topography, and pyrogenic-climatological conditions of peninsular Florida in a different way from many other indigenous flora. Rather than taking advantage of bare soil and maximizing seed production in the fall after a fire, it instead produces more seed in subsequent years and has a seed with awns that can drill through litter. Rather than dropping seed under certain weather conditions, it has a photoperiod-based adaptation. The seed then presumably waits for the appropriate conditions to germinate. The studies reported here suggest that there is an optimal burning season and fire interval that best perpetuates this species. 

Very interesting indeed! ( I did attempt to email Mr. Pennfield but the email was undeliverable)


A little tidbit about Florida Soil

Like many plant species, there is a plant specifically adapted to different soil conditions, and mentioned at the beginning of this post, Lopsided Indiangrass grows only in sandy soils. 

Florida has the largest total acreage of Aquods (wet, sandy soils with an organic-stained subsoil layer) on flatwood landforms in the nation. Myakka (pronounced My-yakah), a Native American word for Big Waters, is a native soil and exclusive to Florida. The most extensive soil in the state, it occurs on more than 1½ million acres. On May 22, 1989, Governor Bob Martinez signed a Senate bill into law, making Myakka Florida’s Official State Soil.

 More about soil: Soil Biology | NRCS Soils (usda.gov)


Although most of the research I found focused on commercial seed production to grow Lopsided Indiangrass for habitat restoration. A few links are provided below. But what I find so interesting is how when you click on one link you go to another link that takes you to another link and you learn so much more.

Let’s take a short trip back through history.

Many Florida naturalists can imagine how the state looked before the settlers came. Beautiful upland longleaf pine habitats surrounded by unpolluted healthy ecosystems that thrived within the uncharted demographics of Florida. The only boundary lines that were made were by Native Indians and the wild animals that roam freely. Florida was untainted and there was nothing obstructing the natural occurrence of fire. Fire throughout the state maintained the health of the land and the abundance of native grasses.  

Mentioned in the History of Florida agriculture: the early era… (flvc.org) the Apalachee Indians lived in the north-western part of Florida, Timucua or Utimua Indians lived in Central Florida, and there are mentions of tribes to the south in the early 1500s as well. These tribes grew tobacco, corn (maize), and other vegetables. The native grasses were abundant. When settlers came to Florida bringing cattle, those native grasses were overgrazed. Developing Sources of Native Grass Seed for Revegetation in Florida


Links:

Microsoft Word – flpmcsyphmine.doc (usda.gov)

Microsoft Word – flpmcab07ngs.doc (usda.gov)


A Note

One thing about being a nature photographer is the unconscious awareness to become consciously aware of Florida’s flora and fauna. It’s like seeing things that you have seen thousands of times before but taking that second look to see things for the first time. 

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