Are you familiar with bluegrass? No – not the music genre. I’m talking about the grass! Actual bluegrass! This Wisconsin wetland native isn’t blue, it’s bright green! Poa palustris or commonly known as Marsh Bluegrass, fowl bluegrass, or swamp meadow grass is a cool-season grass you’ll find growing naturally in our wetlands and swamps.
Marsh Bluegrass is an unostentatious yet abundant species in Wisconsin wetlands. It can also be found growing in marshes, meadows, fields, shorelines, and swamps. Most sites with adequate moisture and some shade would be ideal for this species of grass. This grass is an excellent choice for any wetland restoration project. Marsh Bluegrass is stoloniferous, meaning it has stems that creep horizontally above ground. These stems will take root and form a mat or colony that are clones of the parent plant. Because of this habit, Poa palustris is great as a slope stabilizer.
Marsh Bluegrass is a cool-season grass, this means that this grass will start actively growing during the spring while soil temperatures are still cool. It produces very loose, airy flower panicles that rise 18-24” above the foliage. This is a splendiferous plant to brighten up the understory of a woodland garden with its bright green foliage.
Marsh bluegrass is mostly used as fodder for domesticated livestock such as cattle, rabbits, sheep, horses, chickens, and pigs. This grass is also commonly used as feed for waterfowls. The seeds of Marsh Bluegrass, as well as other bluegrasses, are an important food source for many species of birds. Marsh bluegrass seeds are often enjoyed by Wild Turkey, Ruffed Goose, and the Swamp Sparrow. There are also many mammalian grazers and foragers that also like to munch on bluegrass.
Caring for Marsh Bluegrass is as easy as enjoying a Billy Strings tune.
Poa Palustris is a moist soil-loving grass. We find it growing naturally in dense woodland situations in deep shape. This grass prefers to have light conditions from part shade to heavy shade. Thanks to its deep penetrating root system, it can thrive in heavy clay or compacted soils. Although, something to keep in mind is it is intolerant of drought.
This grass will thrive in just about any wet, shady site.
Pest and disease issues for Marsh Bluegrass are few and far between. Powdery mildew and fungal spots have been previously observed but these are rare occurrences that are hardly worth mentioning.
One pound of Marsh Bluegrass seeds is approximately 3,156,000 seeds!
The genus Poa is comprised of about 500 different species of grasses that you can find growing native in the temperate regions of both hemispheres. Poa comes from the Latin word meaning “Fodder” in reference to its use in animal feeds. The specific epithet palustris means “Swampy”, “marshy”, or “of wet places”.
The best features for identifying this species are recognizing its loose growth habit, steeply ascending leaf blades and specific characteristics on the lemma. The lemma is a part located on the sides of the spikelet. The characteristics to learn to help recognize this species in the wild are the hyaline margins on the lemma, as well as its incurving keels.
Because Marsh Bluegrass thrives in moist-to-wet conditions, it would do well planted near other plants that thrive in the same conditions. Such as Musclewood, Silky Dogwood, Iris, Swamp White Oak, Culver’s Root, and Sedges.