Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Carolina Wiregrass - Aristida stricta   Michaux
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Section 5 » Order Cyperales » Family Poaceae
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AuthorMichaux
DistributionCoastal Plain, Sandhills, and lowermost southern Piedmont. Unknown north of the Roanoke River.

Coastal Plain, NC to northern SC -- limited to a quite small range, for a graminoid species.
AbundanceCommon throughout, except rare in the lower Piedmont. Usually the dominant herb in fire-maintained pineland habitats. Though it does have a small range, it is so widespread in NC at a level of S5, the website editors suggest the Global Rank should be G5, as well.
HabitatDry to perennially moist (sometimes seasonally wet) Longleaf Pine-oak uplands, sandhills, sandridges, bay rims, pine savannas, and flatwoods. A characteristic plant of Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) communities and critical in its fire-carrying ability. Fire-suppressed plants can survive for decades but never flower or fruit.
See also Habitat Account for General Fire-maintained Herblands
PhenologyFlowering is dependent on timing of fire; usually July-October, if and when burned earlier in the year.
IdentificationWiregrass forms permanent tussocks of many dozens of radiating, involute (tightly rolled into a circular cross-section) leaves. Following fire, the leaves resprout within 2 weeks and continue growth, followed by erect stalks with spikelets similar to other three-awns. Wiregrass is our only three-awn whose leaf blades are not flat (except at the very base). Freshly emerged leaves are green, looking somewhat like the seedling stage of a Longleaf Pine; however, by fall and winter, and into the next season, the plants become buffy in color.
Taxonomic CommentsFrom central SC and southward, a second species (or variety) occurs: A. beyrichiana.

The genus Aristida is most notable for the 3 hairlike awns which project from each floret. The central awn is almost always thicker than the other 2 awns. The awns may stand erect, especially during the early flowering period, but in most species eventually are bent parallel to the ground. In some species, only the central awn is bent, while the other 2 remain erect. In some species, all awns are the same length, while in other species the central awn is distinctly longer. The awns have tiny barbs which catch onto hair and fur, and florets will even hitch a ride up the inside of your pants!
Other Common Name(s)Traditionally called just "Wiregrass" in the Carolinas, and that is a suitable name in use here. As A. floridana is generally called Keys Wiregrass, and A. beyrichiana is often called Southern Wiregrass, Weakley (2018) and a few other references, including this website, will use a modifier name -- Carolina Wiregrass -- especially as this locally abundant and characteristic species is -- surprisingly --limited just to NC and SC. Also named as Pineland Three-awn by some references, but that includes additional taxa.
State RankS4 [S5]
Global RankG4 [G5]
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