Thursday, 17 March 2011

Nardus stricta - Mat Grass

Nardus stricta - a very very rare plant on Headley Heath in Surrey
Grass of the Month for March
(See list of grasses for other months)

Mat grass is a coarse needle-like grass. It is easy to recognise because:

  1. Its blades come off at 90 degrees to the sheaths.
  2. It has thick swollen shiny hard pinkish whitish lower sheaths.
  3. There are often persistent grey-white dead leaves attached to the plant.
  4. It is tufted; Sometimes animals pull out a tuft and then leave it because it is too tough to eat. (Try eating a shoot!!!)
When it does come into flower (in May-June) it has black spikelets attached to one side of the stem. This arrangement is "secund". (from the Latin "secundus" =  following)

When teaching on fields of rough ground near Malham Tarn when I saw mat grass I would say "Oh, a sign of acid soil and of bad management - overgrazing".. But I now wonder... Acid soil, yes.
Certainly the sheep don't like it and so nor do the farmers... If the soil is dominated by mat grass then it is "U5" vegetation.

But in other places it is special. It is very rare in Surrey - above is one of the very few mat grass plants in Surrey, on Headley Heath ..

And in mountains in the Scottish Highlands patches of Mat Grass can indicate snow hollows.. hollows where snow persists for a long time after it has melted in other areas

Snow hollows seen from near summit of Glas Maol

This was June 2010 - but in June 2008
this had been covered with snow - see below.
26 June 2008 - See the snow and the Mat grass on Glas Maol

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