Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fictional botany: Miscanthus decafasciatus

Mathly whipgrass (Miscanthus decafasciatus) is a tall (to 7 feet / 2.1 m) spreading (to 5 feet / 1.5 m across) perennial grass native to the Middle East and Northeast Africa. It is sometimes grown as a showy ornamental, though it is less commonly grown than zebra grass (M. sinensis), to which it is related. The leaves are very narrow (0.25 in / 0.6 cm), stiffly upright, and bright green, drying to yellow in the winter. The flowers are white, and maintain their appearance very well when dried: for this reason, they are often used in arrangements.

The common name derives from the narrow transverse black bands on the leaf blades: the topmost bands on a leaf are arranged closely together, and become further apart as the leaf grows, until the tenth such band is reached, at which point the pattern repeats, forming a logarithmic scale. Ancient nerds used the leaves to form primitive slide rules, which can be surprisingly accurate (to within about five percent) if correctly constructed. Despite the common name, this is not related to the plant called whipgrass (Hemarthria compressa).

Mathly whipgrass is hardy to zone 5b and does not seem to be invasive. For best presentation, bunches should be divided every three to four years or they will flop over.

There are two subspecies:

M. decafasciatus octofasciatus (eight-banded whipgrass), which has the same general pattern but the bands repeat in groups of eight instead of ten, found in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, and
M. decafasciatus africanus (dwarf mathly whipgrass), a shorter variety not exceeding four feet (m) in height, but with the same ten-band pattern. Africanus, despite the name, is native to Turkey.

-from A Field Guide to Imaginary Plants (Mr. Subjunctive, ed.)


Anonymous said...

HA HA and HA. A distant relative to Pennisetum Snidely Whiplash perchance? And I love its decafedness too. And the sliderule, that is the best yet. I also like the oct based on the eights. You have outdone yourself.

mr_subjunctive said...

I should maybe mention that the common name came from a throwaway comment by Bob at Shakesville, and when I saw it, I knew I could do something with it. The slide-rule came first, and the rest of it filled in after.

Anonymous said...

Ack, gack, ha, and whatever else seems appropriate! Mercy on us.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Methinks someone had far too much time on their hands. Or on the plants. Well, it's somewhere else.