Leersia oryzoides (Rice Cutgrass)
|Also known as:
|part shade, sun; wet; marshes, swamps, shores, banks, wet ditches, shallow water
|August - October
|2 to 5 feet
|Wetland Indicator Status:
|GP: OBL MW: OBL NCNE: OBL
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):
Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.
Branching cluster at the top of the stem, pyramidal in outline, 4 to 12 inches long, 1 branch per node near the top and 2 or more branches per node near the base. Often, the lowest branches and/or auxiliary clusters are at least partially enclosed in the uppermost leaf sheaths. Branches are 1½ to 4 inches long, initially erect becoming ascending to spreading, each with 1 to 4 branchlets that are congested on the upper half or so of the branch and remain more or less appressed to the branch. Spikelets (flower clusters) are arranged all on one side of a branchlet, appressed, overlapping for about half their length. Spikelets are short-stalked, elliptic in outline resembling a grain of rice, and have a single floret.
A pair of bracts (glumes) at the base of a spikelet is absent altogether. Surrounding a floret are a pair of bracts (lemma and palea), both boat-shaped, whitish with green veins, 4 to 6 mm (1/8 to ¼ inch) long and flattened laterally with conspicuous bristly hairs along the keels, so the spikelet appears fringed all around the outer edge, and also often have scattered hairs on the surfaces. The lemma is about ¾ the width of the spikelet, 5-veined, hairy along the edges like on the keel. The palea is slightly longer than the lemma, about ¼ the width of the spikelet, 3-veined, and occasionally lacks hairs on the keel.
Leaves and stems:
The sheath is sparsely covered in sharp, stiff hairs, may be short hairy on the back and/or front where it meets the blade, and often has a pair of small triangular lobes (auricles) at the apex. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is .5 to 1 mm long, inverted U-shaped to straight across, not fringed with hairs, and joined to the sheath auricle. Nodes are densely hairy with downward pointing (retrorse) hairs. Stems are hairless to sparsely rough hairy, unbranched, erect or prostrate from the base then rising near the tip (decumbent) and rooting at the nodes, single or multiple from the base and forming loose clumps. Plants often form colonies from long, scaly rhizomes.
Leersia oryzoides is a common wetland species and called “cutgrass” for a reason, as anyone who has has the misfortune of walking through a stand of it will attest. The stiff hairs on leaves and sheaths are very sharp and can cut through unprotected skin—it's drawn my own blood more than once! While from a distance, Leersia oryzoides may resemble a number of other grasses with a loose panicle, a closer inspection of the spikelets shows how different the Leersia species are: the single-flowered spikelets congested at branch tips, lacking awns and flattened laterally, with conspicuous hairs along the keel of both lemma and palea, along with the absence of glumes are a unique combination, and all 3 Minnesota Leersia species also have densely hairy stem nodes. Leersia oryzoides is the most common of the 3, and distinguished from the others by spikelets 4 to 6 mm long, shaped much like a grain of rice, often have hairs on the lemma and palea surfaces as well as the keels, and are overlapping on the branchlet by about half their length. By comparison, Leersia lenticularis (Catchfly Grass), a rare species of floodplain forest, has nearly round spikelets, and Leersia virginica (White Grass) panicles are more sparsely branched, has spikelets less than 4 mm long that do not overlap much, if at all, and usually lacks hairs on lemma and palea surfaces, sometimes also on one or both keels.
Please visit our sponsors
Native Plant Nurseries, Restoration and Landscaping Services ↓
- Rice Cutgrass plants
- Rice Cutgrass plants
- a stand of Rice Cutgrass
- flesh-tearing hairs on leaves and sheaths
- auxiliary cluster mostly enclosed by a leaf sheath
- scan of inflorescence
Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka, Chisago, Ramsey and Winona counties.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?