Monday 30 September 2013

Grass ident 05/06/2013

Grass is so common, that it is often overseen. There are great showy ornamental grasses of courses that can really add to the garden, but the common grasses are interesting if you have meadows. Also if it is a weed it is good to know what you are dealing with. And personally I find the constituents of what makes up a lawn, agriculture leyland and meadows fascinating, it can say so much and their uses are often so fundamental. Once you start seeing 'the grass' is not one green mass anymore.

1. Holcus lanatus aka Yorkshire Fog (Poaceae family). Lanatus = Latin for woolly as it has a hairy texture. Distinguishable by its pink tinge, another way to identify it is the base of the stems are white with pink stripes/ veins. This grass is a common weed and is very invasive/ noxious weed in some countries like America and Australia. In Britain it can be part of meadows and hardy pasture grass.

Its preferable conditions are wet and disturbed ground, it can be an indicator of poor soil, low grazing and poor drainage, so if these were reversed it would be less rampant. In Europe it does not survive trampling and though hardy can be killed by severe frosts. It is also a food source for the butterflies Speckled Wood, the Wall and the Small Skipper.

2. Dactylis glomerata aka Cocksfoot Grass. It is originally from North America and was known as Orchard Grass. When not open and in flower, the tufty heads do look like feet of cockerels.

It is interesting in that it has been debated whether it makes a good alternative grazing grass to Lolium perenne (Ryegrass). Lolium perenne is used a lot in conventional agriculture because it takes in high nitrogen fertilisers well, and a grass that still provides livestock nutritional value, so this can help increase commercial productivity. Whether conventional agricultural methods are the best is debatable. But the advantage of Dactylis glomerata in this scenario is that it is drought resistant, so it can still provide a source of feed with nutrition when it is very hot and dry especially when mixed with other plants like clover. Plus it is thought that its deeper roots might bring up more nutrients. Dactylis glomerata like Lolium perenne also put back nutrients into the soil, and hence the latter is used to keep the land usable.

3. (Left to Right) Cynosurus cristatus aka Crested Dog's Tail.  The seed head is a bit flattish. It is found in the wild in species rich grassland like purple moor grass and rush pastures which are good for biodiversity. But it is also used as an ornamental plant and for sheep grazing when young. It is drought & cold resistant and stays green in the winter. It is also used for straw plaiting.

4. Alopecuris pratensis aka Foxtail Grass. The seedhead is as its common namesake like a reddish foxtail that becomes silvery. It is found in meadow grass on clay or neutral soil. It is also a food source for the Essex Skipper butterfly. It is a early flowering grass.

5. Anthoxanthum odoratum aka Sweet Vernal Grass. It is  a short lived perennial. It is used as a lawn grass and can be found in meadows. It is the one that makes the 'grass smell' and induces hayfever because of its coumarin contents. It has short broad green leaves that are slightly hairy, and flowers in spring.

6. Festuca rubra aka Red Fescue is often used in lawn mixes too. It is found all over the world and is tolerant of all sorts of climates and conditions, especially shade. It is not used as a meadow grass because it is unpalatable to livestock and has low-productivity.

7. Bromus hordeaceus aka Soft Brome is an annual grass found in wastelands, meadows, dunes and verges. It flowers from May to July and sets seed in May to early August. It can be a problematic weeds especially in cereal crop rotations. It is closely related to the lineage of wheat grass family though of important economic crops like Triticum ssp (wheat), Secale cereale (rye) and Hordeum vulgare (barley). It's name also means oats - so that would probably explain it's resemblance to some of these crops. The smaller plant Bromus sp. is also a sister one.

8. Brachypodium sylvaticum aka False Brome is perennial. It is mainly found in forests and woodlands i.e. shady areas but can grow in the open too. it doesn't like wet and prefers calcerous soils. It was introduced into North America and has become an invasive species and now a threat to the native flora in the state of Oregon. In Europe though it is also a good food source for the Chequered Skipper and Essex Skipper butterflies.

10. Agrostis capillaris aka Common Bent. Agrostis = Latin for field. It's a perennial that grows in moist grasslands, open meadows, agricultural areas, roadsides and disturbed ground. It likes low fertility, neutral - acidic soils and is rhizomatous/ stoloniferous, so runs and produces dense swards of fine leaves. Their seeds germinate in Autumn and Spring. It is a good grass for the type of grounds like lawns & golf courses, but is also an important constituent of high diversity areas of purple moor grass and rush pastures and sheep grazing land in high rainfall areas. It is also grazed by rabbits which helps control its seeding.

11. Plantago lanceolata aka Ribwort Plaintain is a a red herring as its not actually a grass. It has hairy wide ribbed leaves that are very distinctive. It is a perennial weed of arable and grasslands (invasive in the US) and can be found on roadsides. It can tolerate high altitudes and was present in prehistoric times. It is very palatable to sheep and is a good source of calcium, phosphate, potassium and sodium for them, as well as having trace elements of cobalt and copper. So it has been used in grass feed mixes and in Wales has been valued as plant for hillside improvement. Hence it is also an indicator for land that has been or is used for grazing. As well as healthy animals it apparently makes the flavour of milk taste good! It is also used in herbal medicine and I have witnessed the fresh leaves being used to effectively sooth a wasp bite. A lot going for a little plant that's also a weed.

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