Pale blue-eyed grass  Sisyrinchium sarmentosum
ESA status: petitioned for listing

Pale blue-eyed grass pc Mike Marsh

Pale blue-eyed grass is not really a grass, though at first it might look like one – it is a small, slender member of the iris family, and it shows its allegiance when blooming. Its pale blue-green stems and thin grass-like leaves are decorated with minute pale blue flowers in the spring, adding a subtle tint to the wet open meadows where they grow in south-central Washington and northern Oregon – the only places on earth this rare plant is found.

The pale blue-eyed grass is not only delicate in appearance, but in constitution as well. It is very sensitive to damage before or during its flowering period and can be badly damaged if grazed or trampled by cattle. Pale blue-eyed grass is also threatened by off-road vehicle use, agriculture, and hybridization with another, more common iris.  Invasive species and woody shrubs given a boost by climate change encroach on their meadow habitat. There are only between 5,000 and 7,000 individual plants left, which occur in scattered populations across less than 1,000 acres.  Many of those populations are too small to be self-sustaining.

In 1993 the pale blue-eyed grass was listed as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), but it was removed in 1996 during a general purge of the candidate list. Listing the blue-eyed grass could safeguard other meadow species, such as the Mardon skipper butterfly, a candidate for ESA listing. WildEarth Guardians believes that it is high time to give this delicate little iris the protection it needs to survive.

photo credit: Mike Marsh