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Blue-eyed Grass

PEI’s showy flowers dominate our June landscape, but it’s worth taking a moment to notice the subtle blooms as well. One of my favorites is the delicate Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum).

Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) on PEI.

The ‘Blue-eyed’ part of this plant’s name was well-chosen. Tiny violet-blue flowers less than a centimetre (half an inch) across wink up at you out of the surrounding vegetation. However, while the leaves are grass-like, Blue-eyed Grass is actually a member of the Iris Family (Iridaceae) along with our familiar common native Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor).


If you look closely, you’ll notice that every second ‘petal’ is slightly narrower than the one before it. The narrower ones are true petals – three, like all Irises – and the wider ones are sepals that protected the flower when it was in bud. The family connection is even more obvious once the flower sets seed and becomes a round capsule resembling the seed pods of Iris.


Blue-eyed Grass is one of our native species that prefers disturbed sites and is much more common here today than it would have been prior to European settlement.  Before the 1800s, I would expect to find it mainly in coastal areas – dune slacks and clifftops – and around the edges of grassy meadows. Today, it pops up in pastures and old fields, as well as along roads, trails, and woodland edges across PEI. You may even find it in your lawn!


Many European plants have been intentionally and accidentally introduced to North America, but Blue-eyed Grass is one that’s gone the other way.  It started appearing in countries including Belgium, France, and Italy in the years following World War 1, in areas associated with military camps and activity.  It appears Blue-eyed Grass hitch-hiked to Europe with North American soldiers in much the same way so many of our non-native plants did with European settlers. Today, Blue-eyed Grass is sold as a drought-tolerant garden plant, making a nice addition to a native flower garden here in North America, but less so in some parts of Europe where it’s considered a weed.


Blue-eyed Grass is flowering now, though its sun-loving blooms close at night and on dark, cloudy days.  If you find yourself in a grassy area on a sunny day, be sure to look for this delicate and beautiful part of PEI untamed.

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'Was looking at some a few days back on an open park field that is just mowed, no other maintenance, there was lots of it, and yes in the more droughty areas, amongst hawkweed.

Thx for reminding me it's an Iris! How could I forget the versicolor-blue! The migration-to-Europe story was new to me.

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