Eragrostis spectabilis (Pursh) Steud.
Eragrostis spectabilis (Pursh) Steud. var. sparsihirsuta Farw.
Poa spectabilis Pursh
Purple love grass
Purple lovegrass has some pretty strange common names. Sure, the purple part makes sense: when this grass flowers, it creates zillions of tiny purple flowers that resemble a purple mist floating a few inches above the grass. (Is this where “purple haze” comes from?) And “tumblegrass” makes sense too, since the whole cluster of flowers eventually turns to seeds and detaches, and, nearly weightless, blows around like tumbleweeds. But lovegrass? What’s that about? Turns out that most sources assume the genus name derives from the Greek words for “love” and “grass.” But the Greek era means “earth,” so it may well be that this genus name actually means “earth grass.” Purple lovegrass prefers roadsides, railroad beds, sandy fields, and waste places.
Plants: Appears in low tufts 8-18" (20-45 cm) tall. Stems, called culms, are cylindrical and unbranched, with 3-4 leaves that mostly cover the stem. It is a type of bunch grass.
Leaves: Leaves are up to 10" (25 cm) long and ⅛-¼" (3-8 mm) in width, bluish or grayish green. Typically they are hairless except near the base. Higher up, fine branchlets extend multiply from the main branch, supporting the diminutive flowers.
Flowers: Flowers form a red-purple cloud up to about 15" (38 cm) × 18" (45 cm). If you look carefully, the cloud resolves into tiny spikelets on tinier pedicels. Each spikelet is ⅛-¼" (4-7 mm) long, flat, and about ¹/₃₂" (1 mm) wide. Although most flowers are red-purple, some are olive green. Flowers appear from July to August.
Fruits: “Tumbleweeds” of tiny seeds.
Eragrostis spectabilis on illinoiswildflowers.info
Eragrostis spectabilis at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Eragrostis spectabilis at Minnesota Wildflowers
Eragrostis spectabilis at the Missouri Botanical Garden
Eragrostis spectabilis at Kansas Native Plants
Eragrostis spectabilis on newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu
Eragrostis spectabilis description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 25 May 2020.