Ubiquitous on the
Grasslands of Hylach, Starstem is
a short, delicate grass that is considered quite attractive, as far as grass
grows. It is highly desired by the horse
breeders of Courtford for its high
nutritional content and the real and perceived health benefits it confers to the
horses. There is also a minor trade of Starstem sod, primarily between
settlements on and surrounding the
Hylach, as it does not travel well.
Appearance. Starstem is a dainty looking plant, being quite thin and growing up to 1/3 ped long, but is structurally sturdy, with a stiff, purplish sheath that keeps individual blades from being blown over in the often fierce winds of the Grasslands. The blades, generally numbering 3-4, taper to a thin point and 'droop' to one side, pointing their fronts skyward and exposing as much of itself to the sunshine as possible. It is distinguished by its dark colour, a greyish green that remains vibrant even in the depths of winter, when its neighbours have paled to an occasionally sickly pallor. The seed heads cluster in groups of four spikes at the tip of the blade, with each spike being 2-3 nailsbreadths long, while the florets grow in small spikelets along each blade in groups of 3 or 4.
The Starstem's root system is deep and wide, greedy for whatever water and nutrients it can hoard, and during droughts can extend up to 2 peds deep. It has developed a two-tiered root system, consisting of the larger, tougher primary system, and the auxiliary, which consists of many smaller, softer and more delicate roots that grow haphazardly down, seeking nutrients. As a rather aggressive species, its auxiliary system can often be found entwined with the roots of neighbouring grasses, trying to crowd out its neighbours, at which it often temporarily succeeds at, until the next period of instability causes it to regress. Even in the harshest conditions, Starstem can effectively lay dormant, as long as its primary root system can retain enough nutrients and water to survive until conditions topside can improve.
Despite its outward fragility, Starstem is quite hardy. Even when patches die, due to unseasonal rains (when the grass over-saturates itself, killing off most of its auxiliary root system and blades) extended droughts and extreme wind, the primary root system remains. Experienced horse breeders of the Hylach will point to a 'dead' patch of grass, and bring you back to it in a few days, where Starstem will have sprouted anew.
Territory. Starstem is native to the Grasslands of Hylach were it serves as an important pillar for the local horse breeding industry. Because of its nutritional density it has been transplanted to other pastures in Southern and Northern Sarvonia, but these experiments are more often failures or yield less than desirable results - the Starstem is well adapted to its homeland, and little else.
Why Starstem is so particular to the Hylach is a subject of much speculation. One of the more popular reasons put forward is that Starstem grew as a mutation from its neighbour species, Strongrass, after gnomes (or alchemists; the guilty party often changes depending on whom one is asking) discarded waste from a failed experiment aiming to create plants that could grow in the desert. A less popular one, but one with somewhat more scholarly support, is that Starstem is the descendant of grass affected by magic during the War of the Chosen.
Perhaps the most commonly believed, if not the most commonly shared theory is that Starstem was created by Jeyriall for the Hylach, saddened after seeing how little grew. She created a grass that was both pleasing and healthy to the creatures that lived there and decreed that, because they had lived in a harsh land without complaint, Starstem would be theirs, and theirs alone.
Usages. Incredibly nutritious and boasting a myriad of (sometimes far-fetched) health benefits, Starstem is favoured by horse breeders and ranches. Courtford in particular has what could be called a love affair with the grass, and some intrepid breeders have tried various ways to encourage its growth at the expense of others. Some have harvested strips of sod to transplant to other areas, and while this has proven more successful than attempting to grow Starstem from seed in new pastures, it hasn't exploded into the lucrative market these entrepreneurs had envisioned.
Some of the health benefits attributed to the grass includes:
While the benefits are often overstated, the horses bred in
Courtford are often said
to have truly magnificent coats and to be quite easy to train... though the
latter may simply be a product of the horse breeder's experience and the
animal's contentedness with the sweet grass. It cannot be said if any of the
other benefits are true or not, but, at the very least, many people believe in
Reproduction. Starting in the early summer the florets of the male plants begin producing their pollen, which is then blown about by the wind. The grass will continue to produce pollen until the fall, provided there are enough nutrients and water, about which time the seed heads - fertilized, or unfertilized - drop off and are blown along the ground or through the air. The animals that graze the grasslands also play an important role in seed dispersal, if not the primary one, spreading seeds through their dung. Indeed, most Santharian horticulturists agree that, nowadays at least, Starstem is dispersed primarily by animals, rather than the wind.
Importance. Starstem is a cornerstone of the Hylach's health, and an important part of Courtford's horse breeding industry. The men of Courtford realize that the health of their horses, and by extension their livelihood, hinges on the overall health of the grasslands and specifically that of the grasses their stock feeds on. The Starstem in particular is, as stated before, highly desirable, to the point where herdsman often gauge the potential success of the coming year by the health of the plant.
Myth/Lore. ‘Everyone knows’ that Starstem is named as such because of its star shaped stem. This is demonstrably not true, as the grass lacks any peculiar stem shape, and the actual origin of the name remained a mystery many years. The true origin of the name comes from the previously mentioned tale, wherein Jeyriall gifted the plant to the animals of the Hylach. In the old local dialect, the word 'star' was used to refer to anything celestial or relating to the gods, while 'stem' comes from a word pronounced as 'staam', which was a catch-all term for grasses, grains and moss. Star staam, in the old dialects, could be taken to mean 'grass from the sky' or 'grass from the gods'.