Chloris barbata

swollen fingergrass


Chloris barbata

Sw. 1797

pronounced: KLO-riss bar-BAY-tuh

(Poaceae — the grass family)

synonym — Chloris inflata

Link 1821

pronounced: KLO-riss in-FLAH-tuh

common names: swollen fingergrass, purple-top chloris, purple-top Rhodes grass

Chloris may be from the Greek χλωρος (chloros), green, or may be named for Χλωρις (Chloris), a Greek nymph associated with spring, flowers and new growth. She was abducted by Zephyros, the god of the west wind, and later married him. They had a son named Karpos, a youth renowned for his beauty. His name means ‘fruit’ (cf. Latin carpus). This story is a natural metaphor: the west wind heralds the new growth of spring, which then bears fruit. There is a story, told in Nonnus’s Dionysiaca, telling of Karpos’s love for another youth, Kalamos, who was the son of Maiandros, the god of the Meander River. While the two youths were competing in a swimming contest in that river, Karpos drowned. In his grief, Kalamos allowed himself to drown as well, and was then changed into a water reed, whose rustling in the wind was a sign of lamentation.

Barbata is from the Latin barbatus, having a beard – woolly, downy. In the synonym, inflata is from the Latin inflatus, swollen, puffed up, inflated; haughty, proud. Both inflata and ‘swollen’ refer to the fact that the upper florets of the spikelet are inflated.

This vigorous native of Central and Southern America (or perhaps of the East Indies) is an aggressive invader of degraded land that out-competes native species. It is now found naturalized in most of the tropical and sub-tropical world. It flourishes on abandoned fields and roadsides, especially in drier areas. In Picnic Bay, it has pretty well taken over the cleared site of the old service station in Granite Street, which has had a great deal of spoil dumped on it and later levelled out, making ideal conditions for this grass.

It is a tufted annual grass up to about 90 cm tall; the culms and sheaths are strongly compressed, the blades long and lax, 10–30 cm long and up to 6 mm wide, tapering towards the apex. The nodes are elliptical in section, and are often purplish, as are the basal sheaths. Lateral branches are either lacking or sparse. The leaves, mostly basal, are flat (or, rarely, involute), and the leaf-sheaths are keeled. The inflorescence is of 2 to 11 (but usually 10) digitate spikes. These are loose to spreading, purplish and feathery, 4–8 cm long, with a very hairy appearance. The fertile lemma is obovate, about 3 mm long, slightly hairy on the keel, with long hairs on the upper margins; awned, the awn about 5 mm long. There are a couple of rudimentary lemmas borne beyond the fertile lemma, and these are also awned.

Cattle will eat the grass when it is young, but as it grows it soon becomes less palatable to them. It is not a valuable fodder. The seed is dispersed short distances by wind and water, and also as a contaminant of hay, and by animals.


Photographs taken 2010, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 7th November 2018