Range: Throughout North America wherever grain is grown. Habitat: Grain fields, waste places.
Probably the first settler who planted a wheat field in America sowed some seeds of Chess with it and the practice still continues. Some farmers believed that wheat changed into Chess as it grew, but it is needless to say that such a miracle never happened. The two plants are not even very closely related, but belong to quite distinct tribes in the Grass Family, and each comes true from its own seed. But Chess seeds, when buried in the soil, retain their vitality for years, and their coming up in a field where clean grain had been sown might be thus accounted for. When sown with spring crops it often fails to mature its seeds, and is therefore most frequently found growing with the fall-sown crops of rye and winter wheat. Grain containing Chess is somewhat difficult to clean, and if ground with wheat the flour is dark-colored and has a narcotic quality which ruins it commercially. Consequently such wheat is very sharply docked in the market. It is a most prolific weed. Professor Hunt, of Cornell University, sowed one pound of it on one-twentieth of an acre and reaped ninety-nine pounds of seed; and as they are quite small and light, there are nearly as many seeds in a pound as there are wheat kernels in a bushel. (Fig. 26.)
Fig. 25. - Stink-Grass (Eragrostis me-gastachya). X 1/5.
Stems two to three feet tall, erect, smooth, and simple. Sheaths smooth, strongly nerved, shorter than the internodes. Leaves three to ten inches long, slightly hairy above but smooth beneath, and flat. Panicle loose and open, its branches somewhat drooping. Spikelets smooth, containing five to fifteen seeds, about a quarter-inch long, the lemmas adhering like oats, but distinguished from that grain by smaller size and darker color; they are also somewhat thicker and inrolled at the margins; awns, when present, usually short and straight but weak and soft, sometimes more or less flexuose.
Fig. 26. -Chess or Cheat (Bro-mus secalinus). X 1/5.
Sow clean seed. Chess is smaller and lighter than wheat, and care in cleaning should remove it. But if it is suspected that a few seeds remain, stir the wheat in a barrel of water just before sowing; the Chess will rise to the top. If the grain is treated with formalin for the purpose of destroying suspected spores of smut, the Chess may be removed at the same time. When the weed makes a first appearance in clean soil, under no circumstances let it be fouled for years by allowing the Chess to ripen and scatter its seeds. Hand-pulling and burning is worth while in such an instance, even though the quantity be so large as to make the task rather strenuous. Stubbles where seeds have matured should have surface cultivation after harvest, in order to cause them to germinate; then plow them under, and put no more grain on that land until a hoed crop of some kind needing very thorough tillage has had a place in the rotation.