NATURE NOTES - Super grass

THE good thing about having a son is - devolved responsibility focused on specific habitat management implementation.

Or more accurately, having him mow the lawn!

We have a need for a perfect green sward in our gardens that in all honesty is not that much use biodiversity wise. Much better to have a ‘wild lawn’ that is overgrown and tall and thick enough to get lost in – but that is not acceptable here. We have a pretty diverse sward (lawn) species wise but it is still kept short.

There are around 10,000 species in the world, of which there are 160 species indigenous to or naturalized in Britain.

Grasses are best and probably most easily identified when they are in flower. This is done by using a combination of several ‘identifiers’ based on floral and vegetative features. The structure of most of grass flowers is quite complex and must be clearly understood in order to be able to identify grasses. The pollen that the grass flowers produce is one of the main factors in a lot of peoples asthma. The best and most used tool when trying to identify grass species is an x10 hand lens which can make you look a little like Sherlock Holmes on your hands and knees in a field. It is possible (although more challenging) to identify grasses even when they are not flowering. In this case, the structure of the leaves, together with the shape and size of the overall plant, become the most important features.

Here are some fascinating Grass Facts:

Grasses vary from short creeping lawn grasses, to waist-high reeds and bamboo plants up to 40m (120 feet) tall. Approximately 20% of the world’s ‘green cover’ has grasses as its main ingredient. In Patagonia (South America), the grasslands or ‘steppes’ occupy an area five times the size of England.

Individual plants of the grass red fescue (Festuca rubra) spread via underground stems known as rhizomes. A single plant has been estimated to cover an area 250 metres in diameter. Similar to trees if the annual growth rate is measured, the age of the individual plant can then be estimated. A plant of this size may be well over 400 years old. Even more impressive is that It has been estimated that a large plant of sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina), eight metres in diameter might be 1000 years old!

Grasses enabled our ancestors to become farmers as opposed to relying entirely on being hunters because they produce seeds known as grains (for example, wheat, corn and rice). The grains separate relatively easily from the parent plant and so can be collected. These grains contain high proportions of nutritious oils and starches, making them a valuable food both for our early ancestors and the animals they had started to domesticate.

Grasses are the main food of an amazing range of animals such as deer, which include lots of grasses in their diet.

So next time you are mowing the lawn just remember how important the grass really is!