• Blue-eyed grass, a native gem

    by  • April 19, 2011 • Plant Profiles, Sierra Foothills, Spring • 11 Comments

    It’s California Native Plant Week and I’m profiling a different California native each day that is on my particular wish list.  Today is a favorite, Blue-eyed grass.  

    Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum
    Western Blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum

    “Out of the clover & blue-eyed grass
    He turned them into the river-lane;
    One after another he let them pass,
    Then fastened the meadow-bars again.”

    Driving Home the Cows
    by Kate Putnam Osgood,
    b. 1860

    Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum

    Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium bellum is a primitive iris

    Blue-eyed grass or Western blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium bellum, is native to California and other areas west of the Sierra Nevada. A perennial meadow wildflower related to the iris family, it hides among the other grasses until the clear blue flowers appear in April or May.

    Blue-eyed grass can hide among other grasses before it blooms

    Blue-eyed grass can hide among other grasses before it blooms

    It can be found growing wild on grassy hillsides and in meadows throughout the California foothills, but since the flowers close up on cloudy days, the plant is nearly impossible to find when it is growing alongside other grasses. In the garden, care should be taken to mark where the normally evergreen plant grows if it goes dormant because of cold or drought.

    A six petaled flower blooms at the end of each stem

    A six petaled flower blooms at the end of each stem

    The flowers of Blue-eyed grass are about 3/4 to 1 inch wide

    The flowers of Blue-eyed grass are about 3/4 to 1 inch wide

    The flowers form at the ends of long branching iris-like stalks about the same height as the leaves giving it the grassy look. Each flower is up to an inch in diameter, with 3 petals and 3 sepals. Each has a dab of yellow at the center and is topped with a delicate yellow style.

    It is said that it be propagated by seed, and that it self-sows. It can also be propagated by division of its rhizomes. It would be fun to try all these methods to grow more and more of these little gems.

    The two clumps on a south facing slope will spread by self seeding

    The two clumps, in mid March, on a south facing slope may spread by self seeding

    The two clumps on my south facing slope get excellent drainage and are out of range of any drip irrigation, sheltered under a buddleia. Hardy to at least 20 degrees in winter they go dormant and die back to the ground in my garden. Deer do not bother it.

    Blue-eyed grass in full bloom

    Blue-eyed grass in mid April

    A cloudy bright day is best for photographing blue-eyed grass in full bloom, mid April.

    Blue-eyed grass

    Blue-eyed grass

    This year, I noticed that there are two small shoots from the parent and have marked them with sticks so I don’t pull them up when weeding.

    The tipped flower buds will remind you of iris

    The tipped flower buds will remind you of iris buds

    There are other Sisyrinchiums I’d like to try, the yellow S. californicum, usually found closer to the coast of California, which likes more moisture may possibly survive here with summer water. In the garden these small treasures should be planted or transplanted to an area where they can be easily seen.

    Flowers close up until they see the sun
    Flowers close up until they see the sun

    California Native Plants for the Garden
    In doing this post, I am somehow reminded of one of my favorite books, California Native Plants for the Garden, by Carol Bornstein, David Fross and Bart O’Brien. It profiles more than 500 best California native plants best for gardening in Mediterranean climates anywhere.

    Note: It was difficult to photograph the Blue-eyed grass since my autofocus had a hard time pinpointing the tiny flowers in midair. I held an oak leaf in front of the flower, pressed the shutter halfway to set focus and then lowered the leaf to take the photos. 


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    11 Responses to Blue-eyed grass, a native gem

    1. April 19, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      I’m really enjoying your theme this week.

    2. April 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      Thanks, Katie, I love your blog, too.

    3. April 21, 2011 at 11:11 am

      lovely grass that I have in wetter spots…I believe it is also native here

    4. April 22, 2011 at 8:31 am

      A glorious little grass. We can buy it here, too (I had a couple of plants in my garden but they were overgrown by one of our more vigorous ground covers and I lost them 🙁
      After reading this post, I am most definitely going to look out for this plant again!

    5. April 22, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Hi Donna, I think there is a yellow one, too.
      Hi Desiree, I wondered where you were! hahaha I know you’re taking care of puppies. Lucky dogs.

    6. Mike
      April 22, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      What a fabulous blog! Last Sunday I picked up a six-pack each of blue- and yellow-eyed grass seedlings given away free by the Hacienaa Elementary School, San Jose’s environmental sciences magnet school, which has a large garden demonstrating a variety of native plant communities.

    7. April 23, 2011 at 8:12 am

      Thanks so much, Mike and weilcome!
      Lucky! I’d love to be able to find blue eyed grass or any natives in 6-paks. The six paks available at my local nursery, Intermountain come from Mountain Valley Growers and they have a fabulous variety, but they are expensive, 7.50 each! Good news is they are great quality and starts from six paks grow as fast or faster than larger sizes.

    8. April 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm

      I love these, and I’ve been enjoying your series. My blue-eyed grass plants appreciate where I’ve placed them in the garden, the only spot that has sprinklers. I’ve been tempted by some of the selections that I’ve seen, particularly some of the really low-growing forms. So many cool plants, so little space…

    9. April 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm

      James, I went to the nursery today for the first time in a long time. So happy today… I haven’t seen blue-eyed grass for sale…wish I would though. It’s great and especially when it’s ‘at eye-level’ 🙂

    10. debbie
      June 11, 2014 at 10:10 am

      My blue eyed grass is looking overwatered (?) maybe?? It bloomed the last couple months sparsley and now is looking like it is going dormant; limp and yellowing/browning. I think the drainage is okay, not great – same with the soil… It is in bright shade and has been planted for 2-3 years. I think it is supposed to stay green until winter?? I live the in the east bay of San Francisco.

      • Sue Langley
        June 15, 2014 at 10:38 am

        It’s possible to over water Blue eyed grass. I dig down with a trowel to see if a native plant needs water….just to check. This time of the season the grass has bloomed and will go dormant through the rest of the hot summer. It just sits there. It dies completely back to the ground in my Zone 7 garden. In your milder climate it may stay green, like the iris to which it’s related.

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