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Friday, April 8, 2016

Japanese Blood Grass

While the name 'blood grass' may seem, on the onset, to be something that might cut the crap out of your feet should you decide to stroll barefoot through it, that is not the case.

It's just tall grass that's blood red in color.

But it IS fantastic looking, and if I had anything other than a black thumb, I would grow some on my backyard.

But I can't. 

Japanese Blood Grass, aka Imperata cylindrica, or perhaps as blady grass, cogon grass, or kunai grass is a perennial - which means it shows up every year without you having to plant seeds to make it grow.

It is native to Asia, Australia, India, Micronesia and Melanesia, which I have never heard off, but consists of these four countries that I have heard of: Vanatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Its a tall-growing grass: 0.6 meters up to 2.0 meters (two to 10-feet).

The roots can go down as much as 1.2 meters (47.25 inches), but as 'little' as 0.4 meters (15.8-inches) in sandy soil, which is still pretty effing deep. The roots actually comprise about 60 percent of the plant's biomass.

Its leaves, aka blades (of grass), are about two centimeters (0.79-inches) in width at the base, narrowing to a sharp point at the top. 

No… the blood grass moniker isn't from having people cut themselves on it, but it is a possibility…

The sharp points on the top of the grass are fine-toothed… that means tiny little triangle points… and are embedded with sharp silica crystals. Silica is quartz.

This plant is vegetable and mineral. 

The main vein of each leaf is lighter in color than the rest of the leaf and tends to be nearer to one side of the leaf. The upper surface is hairy near the base of the plant while the underside is usually hairless. Roots are up to 1.2 meters deep, but 0.4 m is typical in sandy soil.

The leaves are green at the base, but turn an intense red color at the tips… turning redder throughout the summer and autumn… even giving it the appearance of glowing.

The grass likes full sun or partial shade, and as far as the soil goes, prefers normal, sandy and even clay with average to moist soil.

Here's something… if you are growing it legally, when you see grass blades that are green, remove it. The green grass is a tell-tale sign that the plant is trying to become more invasive.


Yeah… the Japanese blood grass is on the U.S. Federal Noxious Weed List, which means it is not allowed into the country.

Still, it has become an invasive species - it easily survives in the U.S. southeast… with a 2003 report noting that in some places it has actually taken over more acreage than the more well-known weed threat of kudzu (maybe I'll do a write up on that soon enough).

Obviously the Japanese blood grass is native to Japan… but I admit to not having seen it in the wild, as pretty much every available bit of green space I saw, was either paved over or made into some sort of rice paddy. I'm only slightly exaggerating. But no, I did not see any over my three year stay. Then again… I wasn't looking for it.

Ever wonder why some plants can take over an area at the expense of others? Well, in the case of the Japanese blood grass, it can produce a chemical that helps weaken the surrounding plant species to make it easier to take over.

Yes… a gas… via allelopathy. You can look that one up yourselves.

The Japanese blooodgrass spreads via its small seeds that wispy like a milkweed. It also possesses rhizomes which could be spread by tilling via farming, and again via soil transport. 

Japanese Blood Grass seeds
Throughout Asia and other climes, the Imperata cylindrica is used to thatch the traditional roofs of houses.

One of the reasons for using Japanese blood grass for thatching, is that it has a high burning point than other plants. Ever hear of Fahrenheit 451 - the Sc-Fi novel by Ray Bradbury? It's about a time when books are outlawed, and firemen start fires to burn books. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. Basically, everything has its own catchier point. That was the point I was pointing out.

Yeah… so burning out swatches of this weed isn't a good idea, because its burning point would more than likely be higher than that of the surrounding trees and other flora. You'd burn everything.

Now… I read that when the grass is green, the plant is less fire-resistant, and is actually something that could catch fire… I am unsure if that is true, but why not. Grain of salt, just to be sure.

Herbicides are used to try and control the spreading of the Japanese blood grass (not pesticides). Trying to dig up the plant, and flipping it upside down to kill it doesn't work, because I did mention earlier that it has a deep root system (0.4 meters to 1.2 meters)… and even if you think you got it, and happened to leave 2.5 centimeters (one inch) of the root system in the ground, the rhizomes would cause the root and plant to regrow.

Imperata cylindrica root (Photo: Carey Minteer, University of Georgia,
Anyhow... I suppose I should be glad that this plant can't or won't grow in Toronto, where I am. For one thing, temperatures of -4.5°C or lower for exposure periods of 24 hours will kill the rhizomes, effectively meaning the end of the shrubbery.

Neat, huh?

I thought the story was just going be some boring thing about some pretty looking plant.

Who knew it was going to be about a plant that had a razor sharpness to it accentuated by quartz silica? Or that it could cut you to make you as blood red as it's name. Or that it was such a nasty plant that it is trying to take over the world, putting down a root system that is as deep as some trees?

Andrew Joseph

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