Widow Grass
This June photograph shows the pale violet-white flowers of 'Quaint & Queer' Douglas's Widow Grass along with the yellow flowers of it's close relative California Yellow-Eyed Grass (S. californicum) both of which are prairie grasses & like dry summer soils that are damp in spring. The green leaves to the left are on a young Service Berry shrub, & the rhododendron to the right is Anna Rose Whitney.

'Quaint & Queer' Widow Grass
aka Douglas's Blue-Eyed Grass
or Satin Flower


"The sense of all his beauty, sweetness, comes
When blossoms are the sweetest."

-Elizabeth Stoddard
(1823-1902)

   

This selected cultivar of the Northwest native Satin Flower, or Widow Grass, has violet flowers so pale they are almost white. If you look with exceeding care, you will see that each six-petalled bloom has three pale-violet petals alternating with three even more pallid nearly-white petals. The wild form O. douglasii var. douglasii has pink flowers that hang bell-like, but this cultivar faces its flowers upward.

The turf keeps producing new flowers throughout a long bloom period. In the wild, this period begins at the very end of winter, lasting from February to April. But the cultivar 'Quaint & Queer' continues to bloom through the summer & until first frost! I've seen commentaries that indicate the blooms last only one day each, but if this is true of the wild form, it certainly is not true of 'Quaint & Queer' which closes up its flowers every evening to reopen the next day.

Widow GrassIts scientific name is Olsynium douglasii, but was formerly called Sisyrinchium douglasii. The native range of wild Douglas's Widow Grass is extensive in the Northwest. It's found along the Columbia River Gorge, up to Kittitas County in Washington, into the Cascade Mountains, & on Vancouver Island. It was first described by David Douglas, for whom it is named.

Douglas observed this plant near Celilo Falls in 1826. He was one of the more delightful of our pioneer plant explorers, with a sweetness & naivete & deep love of wandering alone in far places. He had very poor vision, with a pair of thick spectacles tied across his face, cutting quite the odd figure in the wilderness. He would probably not have surivived if peoples of the First Nations hadn't taken a liking to him.

Widow Grass blooms He was so focused on the flora & fauna, he barely took care of his basic survival needs. Native peoples, finding him something of an idiot savant, fed, nursed, & saved his life from time to time.

He was known as Man Who Saves Grass, for he was forever packing out from wild places with only weeds to show for his labors. He came to a sorry end while on his last expedition, which was in Hawaii, where alone as usual he stumbled blindly into a lava pit. This was in an area where there were no native peoples to find him. He died in the pit of hunger & dehydration.

Douglas's Widow Grass though it looks like grass is in reality a primitive iris. It is sometimes difficult to grow, but when it finds itself in a position it likes, presents no problems. Its natural environment would be meadows or prairie areas that are very dry in summer & very moist in spring, where it might well die back at the hottest part of the year.

If well positioned in the garden it naturalizes easily. In an area where the weather is temperate year-round, it is an evergreen which needs good watering in early spring & very little water in late spring & summer, under which conditions it will have quite an extended bloom time.

We have several other widow-grasses in roadside sun-gardens, including among others Eastern Blue-eyed Grass ( S. angustifolium) &Balls' Mauve blue-eyed grass (S. x bellum 'E. K. Balls').

   



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