Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blue fescue producing live babies

A couple of years ago I bought a six-pack of blue fescue ‘Elijah Blue’ (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’). The plants were just plugs, about an inch across, and I stuck three of them in the narrow succulent strip outside our dining room (the wall you see in the photos below is actually our kitchen). This area is in the shade most of the time, but it does receive a couple of hours of intense afternoon sun. I knew succulents would be able to deal with the heat, and I was pleasantly surprised by how shade-tolerant they turned out to be.

Anyway, the blue fescue has thrived here although the literature says it wants full sun. If anything, the leaves are a more blue than you usually see in plants growing in the full sun.

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What is extraordinary about one of the three fescues is that it has produced miniature plants at the end of some of the flower spikelets. Many agaves produce such plantlets, often called “bulbils,” on their flower stalks, but I have never seen this behavior in a grass.

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I did a bit of research, and fescues do exhibit vivipary (the production of live plants instead of seeds) now and then. There even is a fescue species, Festuca vivipara, native to cold climates like Alaska which reproduces exclusively through vivipary, ostensibly because the growing season is too short for seed production.

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Regarding blue fescue, I found an interesting post in the Gardening Answers Knowledgebase operated by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens. A gardener is reporting that one of her (or his) Festuca glauca growing in a shady spot is producing a great number of plantlets. The expert’s reply quotes Flora of North America, vol. 24, p.392:

Under adverse conditions, many species [of Festuca] may proliferate vegetatively, where leafy bulbils or shoots form in place of some or all spikelets. Some populations of Festuca are largely (or completely) sterile, reproducing almost entirely through such bulbils, a process termed pseudovivipary.

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‘Elijah Blue’ is indeed a sterile cultivar, so it would appear that the relative lack of sun has sent my plant into a frenzy of self-preservation.

On the weekend I will snip off some of the plantlets and try to root them in small pots. I certainly wouldn’t mind a few extra specimens of this stunning grass.

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3 comments:

  1. So this is the plant's reaction to being poorly cared for? My plants usually just die when I neglect them. ;-)

    Fascinating!

    I guess you don't have rabbits in your yard? They love the blue fescues.

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  2. Alan, I wouldn't say poor care, just less than ideal growing conditions compared to what blue fescue normally wants. But the plants look awesome just like that :-).

    No rabbits. Just squirrels (which right now are burying acorns everywhere, making a mess of pots) and of course rats.

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  3. What a great poston a great grass. Other than my garlic shoots, I haven't seen anything like this.

    I usually find plants that can tolerate shade have better color than in the sun.

    Good luck with the baby fescues - I'm sure you'll keep us posted.... anne

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