Dichanthelium werneri

Like many eager Sasquatch documentarians before me, I feel compelled to share a video of an organism whose existence is denied by the scientific community. If you know Dichanthelium linearifolium, this creature should look different to you for reasons I point out in the video.

Dichanthelium werneri had a brief but glorious history as a species until an uncharacteristically brash M.L. Fernald (1934) sunk it as a variety of D. linearifolium. I usually enjoy Fernald's take on botanical matters, but he really stepped over the limits of decency in his dealings with Panic Grasses. Many modern workers have buried it completely, largely based on Fernald's inertia I fear. With the exception of the treatment found in Hitchcock and Chase's "North American Species of Panicum" (from 1910), everyone says it is just a glabrous version of D. linearifolium. However, Hitchcock and Chase explain that the type specimen is in fact pubescent on the nodes and that this solid species more closely resembles D. depauperatum for many characters.

I wholeheartedly agree with them and in fact, once I began noticing the habit and vegetative differences between D. linearifolium and D. depauperatum, D. werneri emerged from the mist of crypticism. I see nearly glabrous plants occasionally but most plants are quite pubescent on the internodes and sheaths. I also see glabrous examples D. linearifolium that are not D. werneri, which further confuses the matter. The current placement of this amazing little grass really is a shame. Were I not bound by the economic realities of life, I would devote my time to rectifying it immediately.
Fernald, M.L. 1934. Realignments in the Genus Panicum. Rhodora 36(#423).

Hitchcock, A.S. and A. Chase. 1910. North American Species of Panicum. Contributions from the National Herbarium vol. 15


  1. Intriguing post, Justin! Good to see you back on the blog, hope to see more from you soon. I really enjoy how you tend to focus on the less "attractive" subjects than most botany blogs (myself perhaps being the biggest offender) and provide an incredibly valuable source for sedges, grasses, mosses etc! Myself and some fellow botanist friends are planning an expedition to Missouri sometime in late May to see Asclepias meadii as well as other glade flora. It would be great to meet up with you; you'd certainly be the man to meet in Missouri! Hope all is well!

  2. Hey Andrew. Good to hear from you! It feels good to be back on the blog. I decided that if I made the blog part of my job, I could justify spending more time posting on it.

    I never really thought about it but you're right; I don't post many showy species. I guess I thrive on the obscure.

    I am super excited to hear you may be coming to Missouri. Let me know if you need any advice on sites to visit or a place to stay. We should definitely clock some field time when you are here. I have a workshop in Indianapolis May 29-June 1st, so hopefully your visit isn't over this date range. I must warn you that once you botanize the Ozarks, you won't want to leave!

    Here is my contact info. email:jthomas@botanytraining.com

  3. I don't know, I think the panicums are pretty sexy and showy. P. lanuginosum is particularly hip...it's a sweet little guy. Yay for you for being such a superbad botanist who knows and celebrates the Panicums better than anyone else in the Midwest.

  4. Justin, I remember learning about its relative, Dicanthelium wilcoxianum, in North Dakota as part of training for a Native Prairie Adaptive Management project I was part of. We learned that the etymology in the genus - Di (twice) and anth (flower) - refers to how Dicantheliums have two conspicuous flowering periods. Not every day us plant guys have the opportunity to share or remember such memories so thank you for the opportunity haha. Cool plant!

  5. Allison, thanks for the encouragement. Panicum (sensu lato) is the second largest genus in eastern NA, but easily the least understood. Their diversity is the result of a recent adaptive radiation from Central America and the Caribbean into a more temperate biome. This has resulted in an abundance of microspecies, sister species and cryptic species likely through the collective processes of saltational speciation and founder effect (island biogeography); much like the more studied and appreciated genus Carex. Because of this they have the potential to tell us so much about the modern expressions of phytogeography, evolution and speciation. I wish more people cared.

  6. Mike, D. wilcoxianum is a wonderful species that I have only seen once in the field. The "twice-flowering" phenomenon is a fascinating process and lends taxa an amazing flexibility in terms of adaptation and adaptive radiation. It has been reported that the florets of the terminal (vernal) inflorescence are 90% self incompatible; thus mechanically outcrossers (increasing genetic diversity). The florets of the axillary (autumnal) inflorescences 90% self compatible; thus mechanically selfers maintaining local adaptations. Few plants are known to have such sophisticated breeding systems. Thanks for sharing your appreciation for this largely ignored wonders of the natural world.

  7. Wow... that thing looks different than the D. depauperatum that I normally see around here in northern Indiana. It certainly appears distinct. I'll watch for D. werneri, especially in the sandy soils around Lake Michigan.

  8. "Can't you just talk in the Queen's English man?" Love your post Justin, keep em' coming!

    Might be able to throw you a few Carex species to ID for me this season!

    Jeff Polonoli

  9. Thanks, Jeff. I never met a Carex I didn't like.

  10. Well, at least Fernald recognized werneri at some level of taxon--I've spent much time segregating Dichanthelium perlongum out of the D. linearifolium folders they end up in out my way. In the mid 1930s, the splitting of Hitchcock and the American Code school was pretty much anathema (especially to the Gray Herbarium folks), though Fernald was a very careful observer and (gasp!) a splitter himself. It seems that he discovered one could recognize lots of narrowly-defined taxa as varieties and not be tarred with the "bughole botany" tag like Rydberg, Nelson, (early) Hitchcock and their ilk. By the way, who is this "uncharacteristically brash" M.L. Fernald? I am only familiar with the characteristically brash, crankypants who published in Rhodora under this name :) By the way, good to see some acts of taxonomy taking place on the webz.

    Steven Rolfsmeier, High Plains Herbarium

  11. Steven,
    I know what you mean about D. perlongum; so distinct yet many collectors are unaware of it. Hilarious comments about Fernald. In retrospect, you are absolutely right about his brashness. I was immune to it because most of the time I have agreed with him. His jabs at Rydberg and others in the paper cited prompted some botany friends and I to have a long ediscussion about their two philosophies. We agreed that Rydberg's notion of "species until proven otherwise" (not necessarily his quote) in the face of Fernald's rampant and often undefended use of varieties was much more compelling; especially in a field sense. Thanks for commenting.

    P.S. Great work on the Flora of Nebraska! I use it often as a reference for Midwestern plants. Every year I tell myself I must take a botany trip to Nebraska but work gets in the way. Perhaps I'll email you for a few "must see" sites to whet my appetite.



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