Grass family (Poaceae)
Description: This grass is a summer annual, forming a mat of flowering culms about 4-12" high. At the base, each plant develops a tuft of sprawling to ascending culms. Some of these culms develop roots where they touch the ground, producing new plants with flowering culms. The culms are light green, terete, and glabrous; they are largely hidden by the sheaths. Alternate leaves occur along each culm. The leaf blades are up to 3" long and ¼" across; they are dull green, hairless, and flat. The leaf sheaths are rather loose and variably colored; they can be light green, straw-colored, or pale reddish gray. The sheaths are longitudinally veined and mostly hairless, except where they meet the blades, where there are tufts of white hair. Each culm usually branches, producing short lateral culms that often flower. The nodes are slightly swollen and hairy.
Each flowering culm terminates in a panicle of spikelets about 1-3" long and about one-half as much across. Each panicle has a central branch and ascending to spreading lateral branches; the lateral branches divide into secondary lateral branches. All branches of the panicle are slender, glabrous, somewhat stiff, and slightly wiry. Each branch tip terminates in a narrow spikelet of florets about ¼–½" long. Each spikelet has a pair of glumes (empty scales) at the bottom, above which there are 10-35 overlapping lemmas (fertile scales) that are arranged into 2 columnar ranks. Individual lemmas are 1.5–2.0 mm. long, longitudinally keeled, 3-nerved, and glabrous. The lemmas toward the bottom of the spikelet are a little longer than those near the top. The glumes are similar to the lemmas, but slightly shorter in length; one glume is longer than the other. Behind each lemma, there is a single floret that lacks sepals and petals. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early fall. The florets are wind-pollinated. Disarticulation of the spikelets is above the glumes. Fertile florets produce narrow grains about 0.5 mm. long. The root system is fibrous. This grass reproduces by reseeding itself; it also spreads vegetatively when its sprawling culms develop roots after they touch the ground. Large colonies of interconnected plants are often formed.
Cultivation: This grass typically occurs in partial to full sun, wet to moist conditions, and sandy soil. It also adapts to ground that is gravelly, silty, or muddy. In some situations, it can spread aggressively.
Range & Habitat: Creeping Love Grass is occasional throughout Illinois, where it is native. This grass is found primarily in low disturbed areas along rivers where the soil is sandy, silty, gravelly, or muddy. At such habitats, this grass is often the dominant plant species. Other habitats include vernal pools in open woodlands, low areas along ponds, and sloughs. The seeds of this annual grass germinate after the season of spring flooding, when water levels start to recede.
Faunal Relations: The caterpillars of Hylephila phyleus (Fiery Skipper), Poanes hobomok (Hobomok Skipper), and Poanes zabulon (Zabulon Skipper) feed on the foliage of this grass and other Eragrostis spp. (Love Grasses). Because Creeping Love Grass often forms large colonies along rivers and other wetlands, it is occasionally a significant source of food to dabbling ducks, including Anas acuta (Pintail), Anas clypeata (Northern Shoveler), Anas crecca (Green-Winged Teal), and Anas discors (Blue-Winged Teal).
Photographic Location: Low ground along the Embarass River at Fox Ridge State Park in east-central Illinois.
Comments: The most striking thing about this grass is the large dense mats of vegetation that it often forms in disturbed wetland areas. In this regard, it is nearly unique among Eragrostis spp. (Love Grasses). The only other species in this genus that forms mats of vegetation is Eragrostis reptans (Pony Grass). This latter species prefers the same habitats as Creeping Love Grass, but it is less common in Illinois. Unlike Creeping Love Grass, Pony Grass is dioecious, having separate male and female plants. It also differs by having hairy sheaths and longer lemmas (2-4 mm. in length). In addition to Creeping Love Grass, other common names of Eragrostis hypnoides are Pony Grass and Teal Grass.