Saturday, 5 June 2010

Grasses - don't write them off...

Grass may look dull, boring and samey...but actually there's lots of interest if you spend time looking and you also do a bit of detective work.

Pinch-gate leading to meadow

 Oxeye daisies scattered across the meadow

A quick visit to an NT garden in Holt, Wiltshire allowed me to make a quick sortie across a local meadow usually grazed by cattle.  Pollarded willows line a small brook, which in turn supports water mint, rushes and ragged robin.

 Ragged robin amongst buttercups


Footpaths wind through the long sward and so I managed to take a few piccies to illustrate the diversity of grasses found.  Identifying gramineae (i.e. grasses, but I was trying to avoid typing grasses again!) is best done by looking at the "flowers" and the junctions between the leaves and the stems - its easier than you might think with a good book to hand (such as the Penguin title "Grasses: A Guide to Their Structure, Identification, Uses and Distribution" by Hubbard - the experts favourite).

Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) - this large, sturdy grass is often found along roadsides where the grass is only occasionally cut. The English name comes from the splayed flower head that resembles a birds foot.

Red fescue (Festuca rubra) - one of the grasses that dominate short, unsown swards where they are well grazed, such as downlands, especially where the soil is poorer.  The leaves and stems are very fine

Crested dog's-tail (Cynosaurus cristatus) - an extremely elegant and attractive grass

Yorkshire fog (Holcus lanatus) - a soft hairy grass this red striped stems that look like gentleman's pyjama bottoms - a lovely grass all-round

Perennial rye-grass (Lolium perenne) - although a natural part of any meadow this is the grass that is most often planted for grazing animals as it grows into lush swards.

 Rough meadow grass (Poa trivialis) - one of the most common grass species often found on the edge of paths as it seems to be able to colonise bare areas with lots of foot traffic quite well.

Sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) - this is a grass of older meadows.  Its stems have a very distinctive marzipan flavour when chewed - apparently this is cyanide!  When you think of a hay-maker chewing grass this is probably the species that was picked.

Grass is made to withstand grazing as the growing point is at the base of the stem where biting teeth can't easily reach.  That's why you can mow your lawn and it just keeps coming back... 

1 comment:

  1. grasses and natural wildflower meadows - what beauty. Thanks for posting these glorious images of our lovely UK countryside -much appreciated by a reluctant metropolis dweller


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