Small’s Yelloweyed Grass

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Small’s Yelloweyed Grass, Xyris smalliana, is not a true grass. It is a herbaceous, perennial that doesn’t even look like grass.  A wetland native, Yelloweyed grows from a fibrous root system buried in a moist soil. The plant has long linear and flat basal leaves that ascend in a bunch directly from the ground. Basal leaves range between 8” and 24” in height.   Leaf color is a lustrous dark green.  Leafless flower stems shoot upward from the center of the basal leaves reaching a height of  50”. At the tip of each stem is a cone of hard, overlapping bracts. Bracts, as mentioned in past articles, are modified leaves that are associated with flowers.

Before blooming, flower buds are inside the cone subtended by bract leaves. When ready to bloom, the bracts part and a flower emerges.  As many as 40 flowers could eventually blossom from a cone. Yelloweyed has three bright, yellow fan shaped petals that are fused at the center forming a cup where a female pistil rests. Three lengthy male stamens surround the pistil. The flower’s cup is usually not visible due to many fibrous staminodes which cover the center of the flower.  Staminodes are sterile male stamens which serve no purpose except, perhaps, to attract pollinators. The flower is a little less the ½” in diameter.

Small’s Yelloweyed  Grass thrives in Florida’s wetland along with 30 other species that make up the genus Xyris.  The specimen in the picture was shot in the Okaloacoochee Slough in Hendry County.