This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
It is a perennial, with fibrous roots; leaves in thick tufts, upright, long, narrow, sharp, rather rough, and dark green; sheaths of leaves striated, very long, especially the uppermost one, which is also considerably swollen, inclosing the young head of flowers, rising above it when blooming, the leaf being bent back, pendulous, striated, and with edges turned inwards; stipules oblong, blunt; panicle or head of flowers on a stem about a foot high, erect, composed of six or seven flowers; calyx of two nearly equal, spear-head shaped, concave, pointed valves, containing one floret; corolla of two valves nearly equal in length, the outer valve spearhead shaped, edges turned in, slightly keeled, with a terminal, twisting, feathery awn, sometimes a foot long, jointed, and finally separable at the base; inner valve much narrower, awnless, turned in at the edges, smooth. Seed cylindrical, pointed, loose, closely inclosed in the hardened outer valve of the corolla, which is very sharp, and barbed with bristles at the base, so that, after being borne through the air sustained by the long awn, when it alights upon the soil it there soon penetrates, and is retained by the barbs.
The beautiful and feathery appearance of the awns arises from their being thickly set with very fine, soft, whitish, semi-transparent, diverging hairs.
It is found on dry, mountain, rocky soils, and in such a situation was discovered about the year 1724, by Dr. Richardson, in company with Thomas Lawson, both good botanists, on the limestone rocks hanging over a little valley, called Long Sleadale, about six miles north of Kendal, in Westmoreland. (Ray's Synopsis, 3d ed., p. 393.) No one has detected it there since, nor in any other part of the British Islands, and we fear that it no longer belongs to our native Flora. It blooms in August, and ripens its seed about the middle of September. It belongs to the Triandria Digynia class and order of the Linnsean system.
Mr. Sinclair says that he never could obtain plants from the seed of this grass when sown in the ordinary way on soils in open situations, and it may be owing to some peculiarity of this kind that it is now not to be found wild in this country. In pots and favorable positions the seeds vegetate very well. In many parts of Germany it grows naturally on Alpine or dry, sandy places much exposed to the sun.
Gerardc, more than two centuries since, says, "This elegant plant Clusius first observed to grow naturally in the mountain nigh to the baths of Baden in Germany. It is nourished for its beauty in sundry of our English gardens, and is worn by ladies and gentlewomen instead of a feather, the which it exquisitely resembles".
It is readily propagated by divison in the spring, and flourishes in an open situation and light soil, especially if the soil contains chalk, or has lime-rubbish mixed with it. - Gardener's Chronicle.