Does anyone know the word for shapes caused by wind blowing long grass, where light and dark appear to move across the field?

I'd like to say "He watched the _____ move across the field in the wind."

Video of long grass

[Image from Chris Hawking via YouTube. Click to play the video.]

  • personal thought: the common parlance is "waves" as @k1eran answered, but this is not a precise "word for shapes caused by wind blowing long grass." (if you meant it that way) Feb 9, 2017 at 20:41

6 Answers 6


He watched the waves move across the field in the wind.

Have a look at more grass waves videos on google.

Longitudinal waves
In longitudinal waves, the oscillations are along the same direction as the direction of travel and energy transfer. Sound waves and waves in a stretched spring are longitudinal waves. P waves (relatively fast moving longitudinal seismic waves that travel through liquids and solids) are also longitudinal waves. Longitudinal waves show area of compression and rarefaction. http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/science/aqa/waves/generalwavesrev2.shtml


The first verse of the American patriotic song "America, the Beautiful" makes reference to exactly this phenomenon in a very poetic way:

Oh beautiful for spacious skies;
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties;
Above the fruited plain!

It refers to the wind blowing through wheat fields, so waves is a perfectly apt description.

  • 3
    Yeah, how literally this "metaphor" fit did not occur to me until I moved west to Minnesota, where there really are fields of grain, and, when the wind blows, they really do look like waves on the ocean.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 6, 2017 at 2:05
  • 2
    @HotLicks Of course, when we observe them, they become amber particles of grain.
    – Crashworks
    Feb 7, 2017 at 3:40
  • Ah, @HotLicks, that's reminded me of a 1970s song by a band called Meal Ticket [not the British band of that name]. The words are supposedly sung by a retired sea-captain who's settled in Canadian wheat-growing country. Something like "... when the wind blows the corn, it looks just like the sea," Feb 9, 2017 at 17:22

Ripples, perhaps?

ripple noun [ C ]

a small wave on the surface of water:

  • The stone she threw caused ripples to spread across the lake.

Cambridge Dictionary

I would say that the term doesn't just apply to water.

  • I'd say ripples is good if you are comparing the motion of the grass to that of water. A Grass Sea, if you would.
    – SGR
    Feb 6, 2017 at 11:43

Metachronal rhythm

Image from Wikipedia

The ripples are referred to as metachronal rhythm. -- Wikipedia

A metachronal rhythm or metachronal wave refers to wavy movements produced by the sequential action (as opposed to synchronized) of structures such as cilia, segments of worms or legs. These movements produce the appearance of a travelling wave.

A Mexican wave is a large scale example of a metachronal wave.

The wave (known as the Mexican wave in the anglosphere outside North America) is an example of metachronal rhythm achieved in a packed stadium when successive groups of spectators briefly stand, yell, and raise their arms. Immediately upon stretching to full height, the spectator returns to the usual seated position.

The result is a wave of standing spectators that travels through the crowd, even though individual spectators never move away from their seats.

  • 12
    "He watched the metachronal rhythms move across the field in the wind." is literary gold ;)
    – Blackhawk
    Feb 6, 2017 at 21:30

Descriptors of visual field dynamics are not too generic, and are usually related to the context.

If you want to play on the abundant or vital nature of a field of grains, gyrating is a term you might consider.

It is both a technical descriptor (the top of the grass is gyrating since it's stalk is rooted in one place at the ground), and the word alludes to human dance, which are part of mating ritual.

You may not think of it as gyrating, but if you watch tall grasses you will see that the motion is never "back and forth" — even though this may be how our mind idealizes or simplifies the memory. Look also at lemniscate curves to see what motions the grass-tops can follow.

  • 1
    'gyrating' implies spinning which I don't think is a natural movement for grass.
    – Mitch
    Feb 6, 2017 at 15:50
  • clarified with details Feb 6, 2017 at 17:19

Borrowing a term from optics, I would suggest caustic.


a caustic or caustic network is the envelope of light rays reflected or refracted by a curved surface or object, or the projection of that envelope of rays on another surface

Source: wikipedia

Here is an image of caustics on the sea bed. I think that the patterns are similar to the lighter patches of grass asked for in the question.

enter image description here

  • Though I think this stretches the technical use of the term "caustics" too far, I do agree that it is a surprisingly homologous system for an analogy. Cheers Feb 9, 2017 at 20:40

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