Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

SETARIOPSIS AURICULATA, plant and flowering head

from the August 8, 2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

The grass growing a few meters just beyond the Goosegrass, however, struck me as something new. That's it above, the inset at the right showing soft, slender bristles in the narrow flowering head.

More than anything, because of the slender bristles arising below each group of flowers, it reminded me of the foxtail grasses, so I figured it was one of those I'd not met yet. I photographed some flowers up close and when the image was loaded onto my computer screen I was amazed. You can see the florets' strange form below:

SETARIOPSIS AURICULATA, spikelets, flowers

The very unusual feature seen here -- especially in the flower at top-center -- is that the "first glume" bears flaring, upward curved wings or "auricles," which cause the floret to look like a potbellied penguin shrugging his shoulders. Again, this spikelet/ floret/glume business is diagrammed at http://www.backyardnature.net/gr_flort.jpg.

Foxtail grasses are members of the Grass Family genus Setaria, but this grass with the shrugging penguins is SETARIOPSIS AURICULATA, with no common name I know of. Setariopsis is very closely related to Setaria. In the name Setariopsis the "opsis" means " in the form of," so our penguin plant is " in the form of the foxtail genus Setaria."

Setariopsis auriculata is distributed from southern Arizona through Mexico and most of Central America.