Blue-eyed Grass

Blue-eyed Grass © SBernhard

Western Blue-eyed Grass
Sisyrinchium bellum

Description (Jepson,

    • Monocotyledon
      • Monocots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Iris Family (Iridaceae)
    • Perennial herb, upright growth habit
      • Grows from rhizomes (underground, horizontal stems)
    • Leaves
      • Basal and alternate (one leaf at each junction with stem)
      • Grass-like, in fan-like sprays that sheathe the stem
    • Flowers
      • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) of 3-5 flowers open sequentially on branching iris-like stalks, about the height of the leaves
      • 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
        • Blue-purple, with dark lines (nectar guides) leading to a yellow center
        • Outer edge often with a small point (mucro) projecting from a notch
      • 3 stamens (male flower parts), fused in a column around the pistil (female flower part)
      • Ovary inferior (below the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
    • Height 12-18 in.


      • Native to California
        • Grows in open grasslands with some moisture, but also found in woodlands
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside of California, grows from Oregon to Mexico, but confined to western North America
      • Grows at elevations to 7,900 ft.

      Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

        • Nectar and pollen source for insects
        • Native people had several medical uses for blue-eyed grass
          • Decoction used to treat chills and stomach aches
          • Purgative produced from roots
          • Infusion of washed roots taken for upset stomach, heartburn, asthma, and ulcers
        • Early Spanish settlers made a tea from boiled roots to relieve fevers

        Name Derivation

          • Sisyrinchium (si-si-RINK-ee-um) from the Greek sys, “pig,” and rynchos, “snout,” alluding to pigs grubbing the roots for food
            • Theophrastus, a student of Aristotle, first used this name to describe a type of iris (Ritter 2018)
          • bellum (BEL-lum) – Latin for handsome
          • Blue-eyed grass – flower suggests a blue eye with a yellow iris; leaves are similar to grass
            • From a distance, a field of blue-eyed grass can appear spotted with blue eyes
            • Also sometimes called yellow-eyed iris
          Seeds © DSchiel


            • Flowers open in the morning and close in the evening or when it’s cloudy
              • This process is an example of nyctinasty, which refers to diurnal and nocturnal changes (single or repetitive) exhibited by the leaves and flowers of some plants (van Doorn 2003)
            • After flowering, the plant dies back and remains dormant through the summer
            • The petals and sepals of plants in the blue-eyed grass genus, Sisyrinchium, look more alike than do those of typical garden irises

            ID Tips

              • May be confused when not flowering with iris-leaved rush (Juncus xiphioides), which also has sheathing, linear leaves
                • Iris-leaved rush leaves are hollow, and you can feel bumps from the interior partitions (crosswalls) by running your fingers along the leaf blade
              • Check out this short Jepson video for more ID tips

              At Edgewood

                • Found in moist grasslands
                • Flowers March – May

                See General References

                Specific References

                  Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. 2009. Sisyrinchium bellum. Native Plants of North America. University of Texas at Austin.

                    Nature Collective. 2020. Blue-eyed grass.

                      Ritter, M. 2018. California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora. Pacific Street Publishing, San Luis Obispo, California.

                        van Doorn, W.G. and van Meeteren, U. 2003, Aug. 1. Flower Opening and Closure: A Review. Journal of Experimental Botany, 54: 389, pp.1801–1812.