Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Three melics compared: Melica torreyana (left); M. imperfecta with relaxed panicle branches (center) ; and M. californica (right). Ruler in cm. Scan of grass specimens.

California melic, Melica californica, March−June, Native

California melic is a larger, taller grass than small-flowered melic and Torrey’s melic, its branches generally erect and appressed, but no less beautiful, with a narrow yet graceful inflorescence and bright green tuft of narrow, flat leaves. It has the brightest green foliage of the native perennials on our tour. The entire plant is glorius in full sun, and is frequently near rock outcrops. It can be seen off serpentine in the vicinity of the intersection of trails 12 and 10. See the entry for M. torreyana for additional habitat notes. California melic usually has corms (expanded stem base), which is characteristic of some species of the Melic or Onion grass genus.

Name: Latin for honey, or old Italian name for a plant with sweet sap | from California.

Illustration from Manual of the Grasses of the United States, 2 ed. PDF: http://standish.stanford.edu/bin/object?00003911

small-flowered melic, Melica imperfecta, Mar–June, Native

Mature specimens usually exhibit spreading panicle branches, while the inflorescence of M. torreyana is usually narrow, branches upright, appressed. Use this feature as a field characteristic to distinguish these otherwise similar grasses that sometimes grow companionably together. See small-flowered melic on Grassland Fire Road west of the Trail 15 intersection, and throughout the Preserve on steep, mesic slopes. It has not yet been found on serpentine at Jasper Ridge.

Name: imperfect

Torrey’s melic, Melica torreyana, March−June, Native

Growing to 2 feet tall, Torrey’s melic is smaller and finer than M. californica. Similar to the two Nassellas, the more delicate-featured melic prefers partial shade in woodland or the edge of grassland and chaparral, while M. californica is often seen on exposed, rocky slopes, though it will tolerate some shade. Torrey’s is strikingly handsome in diffuse light, which plays on its transluscent, papery glumes and red-backed lemmas, creating the appearance of a necklace of rice-like, light and dark beads. It's narrow, flat, shiny-green leaves can form dense tufts.

Name: John Torrey (1796-1873), American botanist.

California distribution (Beetle, 1947)