Instructor and contact information

Matt Lavin, Plant Bioscience Building 308 (office) and Lewis Hall 408 (MSU herbarium), email.
Lecture & Lab. Lewis Hall 307, Monday, 12:00-5:00 PM, optional field trips to southeast Bozeman.
Office hours. Mondays 10:00AM-12N in Lewis Hall 408 or by appointment.
Text: Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, by Peter Lesica. Required.
Course announcements are posted to Brightspace or D2L

Course learning outcomes and objectives

Students will be able to 1) Sight identify over 150 of the most common grass and grass-like species (graminoids) in Montana. 2) Interpret diagnostic characteristics in the context of graminoid families, grass tribes and genera. 3) Relate plant morphology to botanical terminology so that taxonomic keys are readily approachable. 4) Combine sight-identification and taxonomic keys in order to expedite plant identification of grass species never-before encountered. 5) Distinguish grass genera or tribes by their common ecological predilections.


A background in general botany including some plant anatomy, morphology, physiology, and basic plant identification (or a high degree of interest in grasses).

Schedule of lecture-labs (each lab will be finalized by the Saturday evening before each Monday lab)

28 August lecture and lab: introduction to the class
4 September lecture and lab: Labor Day, no classes
11 September lecture and lab: introduction to the grass spikelet and other basic morphology and terminology; the cool-warm season distinction; introduction to the grass species that commonly colonize open dry settings in town.
18 September lecture and lab: introduction continued but with a focus on graminoids that inhabit riparian corridors and wetlands in town.
25 September lecture and lab*: tribe Triticeae.
2 October lecture and lab*: tribes Aveneae and Stipeae.
9 October lecture and lab*: tribe Poeae.
16 October lecture and lab*: tribe Meliceae and review of the five principal cool-season grass tribes.
23 October lecture & lab: Exam 1
30 October lecture and lab: introduction to warm season grasses - tribes Andropogoneae and Paniceae.
6 November lecture and lab*: tribe Chlorideae.
13 November lecture and lab*: tribes Aeluropodeae and Eragrosteae.
20 November lecture and lab*: tribes Aristideae, Arundineae, Danthonieae, Bambuseae, and Oryzeae.
27 November lecture and lab*: grass-like plant families in Montana: Cyperaceae, Juncaceae, Typhaceae.
4 December lecture and lab: 12 N - 5 PM: Exam 2 (Barnard Hall 126)
14 December: 8 AM - 12 N: Exam 2 (Lewis Hall 307)

*Lab with a quiz. Each of the nine lab quizzes will involve the identification of 10-15 grass specimens from the previous week’s lab.


Grades come from two exam scores each worth 1/3 of your final score and 8 lab quizzes that are collectively worth 1/3 of your final score. The exams and quizzes will comprise short answer questions (e.g., name the tribe, genus, and species). The two exams will each involve the identification of 75 specimens. The efficient use of taxonomic keys depends on an ability to sight identify the family, tribe, genus, and species. Success in this class will be achieved by spending time in the lab and elsewhere studying as many graminoid species and specimens as possible and working them through taxonomic keys in a reverse and forward fashion and using a hand lens to study diagnostic traits.

Required Lab materials

Manual of Montana Vascular Plants, by Peter Lesica. The Montana Grasses app (updated version released 30 August 2017). A 10x hand lens. These three items, including any notes you write directly on the pages of Lesica, can be used during all exams and quizzes.

Recommended lab items

  1. A Flickr Montana graminoid photo collection
  2. Cutting instrument (e.g., knife, scalpel, razor-blade), dissecting needle, or fine-pointed forceps
  3. 15 cm ruler
  4. 120+ sheets of 8-1/2" X 11 "Botany" paper for mounting lab specimens with scotch tape or Elmer’s Glue

Agrostology lab

Specimens of grass and grass-like species will be provided at a rate of 10 or more specimens per week. Important morphological and ecological features of the families, tribes, genera, and species will be emphasized. We will mostly key out many of the species during lecture and lab so plan to bring the Manual of Montana Vascular Plants to each lab. We will key out species in "reverse" fashion. You have the option of preparing study specimens on botany paper by taping or gluing your lab samples to sheets of paper and making notes with each specimen (attach more than one species on one piece of botany paper in order to economize on the size of your sample collection). You can finish this Agrostology course with a set of 120+ of the most common graminoid species, which can serve as a future reference collection for identification. Your collection will not be graded and you can arrange it in any manner you see fit. Ideally, you should mount multiple specimens per sheet of paper so that the size of your graminoid collection is minimal and therefore more useful. Putting related species on the same page accomplishes this and facilitates the comparison species-specific and genus-specific diagnostic traits. An exemplary reference specimen of Bromus japonicus was prepared by Dr. Jack Rumely (aka Herb Arium).

Important websites

  • High Country Apps develops plant identification apps for different regions of western North America, including Montana Grasses (required) and Flora of the Yellowstone Region.
  • The Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria is an image data base that includes the images of all Montana plant specimens housed at the Montana State University Herbarium and many other herbaria in the Pacific Northwest. This is an excellent tool for identifying plants and generating data files for species occurrences in the Pacific Northwest, which includes all of Montana.
  • USDA/NRCS Plants Database - this site is best accessed through a Google search of the scientific name because Google will correct any misspellings of scientific names.