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Eragrostis cumingii Steud. 1854
pronounced: er-uh-GROS-tiss kum-ING-ee-eye
(Poaceae – the grass family)
common name: Cuming’s Lovegrass
Eragrostis comes from two Greek words, Ερως (Eros), the god of Love, and αγρωστις (agrostis) a type of grass – hence the name of the Lovegrass genus. Cumingii is for Hugh Cuming (1791–1865) British conchologist and botanist who collected in South America, the Philippines and the Pacific Islands. Cuming was remarkable even among the numerous remarkable collectors of his time. Having served an apprenticeship as a sailmaker, in 1819, seeking adventure, he shipped out of England on a voyage to South America, and settled in Valparaiso, Chile. He became fascinated with both shells and plants, and began shipping specimens back to England. In 1862 he gave up his business interests, and devoted the last few years of his life entirely to collecting. To do this, he designed a yacht expressly for the collection and stowage of objects of natural history. In it he cruised among the islands of the South Pacific, dredging and collecting both on sea and on shore. This was followed by an extended trip along the coast of Chile and Mexico. He then returned to England, and from there set out on another exploration, this time to the Philippines, Singapore, St Helena, and the Malacca areas. He collected not only plants and seashells, but also made a magnificent collection of land shells (snails, etc.). Both the British Museum and the Natural History Museum in London have shell collections based on the specimens he collected, and many of the English Botanic Gardens benefited from his gifts of exotic plants, particularly orchids, of which he discovered 33 species. In all, his collection was the biggest amassed by a single individual up to that time, and consisted of some 130,000 specimens of dried plant material, 30,000 species and varieties of shells, and numerous birds, quadrupeds, reptiles and insects, as well as living plants.
Cuming’s Lovegrass is widespread across northern and Central Australia. It is a native of Taiwan, and spread through Burma and Malesia to Australia. It can also be found in both North and South America. Depending on the rainfall, it can flower and fruit all the year round.
The culms may be erect or decumbent or sprawling, and anything up to a metre tall. The leaf-sheaths are about 3 cm long, glabrous on the surface. The ligule is a fringe of hairs, 0.3 mm long. The leaf-blades are straight, persistent, 5 – 10 cm long, 1 – 3.5 mm wide, with the apex acuminate.
The seeds are tiny: some are spread by passing animals and people, the hooks on the grains latching on to fur, hair, or clothes; others are wind-dispersed. The seeds of most Lovegrasses appear to be of high nutritional value, but are so tiny as to make their collection for food very cumbersome, and it is not generally done. A notable exception is Eragrostis tef, used to make most of the traditional breads in the Horn of Africa. Eragrostis lanipes is recorded as a famine food in central Australia, and Eragrostis tremula in Chad. Other species, e.g. Eragrostis amabilis, are used as ornamental plants. Eragrostis cynosuroides is used in the püjä rites in the Hindu temple at Karighatta. Weeping Lovegrass (Eragrostis curvula), is planted extensively to combat soil erosion.
Photographs taken 2010, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 4th January 2018