Friday, 8 January 2010

Grasses: Monthly tips for becoming an ace at identifying grasses

Grass of the Month

   In this, the International Year of Biodiversity, this blog will feature a different British grass each month - Follow these pages and you will be come an expert in grasses too!

(This material will be partly based on an article I wrote for the North Craven Heritage Trust last year, partly linked to the articles I am writing each month for North Ribblesdale Parish Magazine this year, and also used for the CEL website. But mostly I am writing it because I hope people will then enjoy looking more closely at grasses)

   The major civilizations evolved about 10 thousand (or so) years ago- only in places where species of grass with large seeds had evolved - In South America the Incas had maize. In China people had rice. And in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean they had wheat (and barley).

   Remember Joseph and Pharaoh's Dreams?

   The seven cows- cows need grass to eat. (Genesis 41 v 3 - The cows grazed on the reeds.)

   Seven good ears of corn:  Corn - wheat- is a cereal and a type of grass.

    Thus human civilization depended on grasses

   And going back a stage - the herbivores - such as cattle and sheep, which we eat,  need grass, and they only evolved as grasses evolved.

   No grasses - No herbivores .. No humans.

   So hey - Grasses are important!

Reed Canary-grass

January's grass is going to be Reed Canary-grass - Phalaris arundinacea - because it is the only grass near where I live tall enough to stick out above the snow. (Picture below taken on 6 Jan 2010)
Phalaris arundinacea 6 Jan 2010

Phalaris arundinacea 6 Jan 2010 a   It grows beside rivers.   The stems can reach 2m in height.

  Have you ever used a blade of grass for a whistle - by putting the blade between your thumbs and blowing? It works realy well with Phalaris.

  Underground shoots called rhizomes enable it to grow in big patches.

   Sometime variegated forms of this grass are grown in gardens. - wide leaves with longditudinal white stripes

   Could Pharaoh's cows have been eating Reed Canary-grass?

   Well, the Global Invasive species Data base of IUCN base says it is an invasive species in Egypt now and it may or may not be native - and that it is native in Iraq near by. So let's assume they did. It produces nutritious, Phalaris arundinacea 6 Jan 2010 bpalatable, succulent herbage for pasture, silage, and hay.

   So if you see a tall grass beside a river, sticking out of the snow it has a good chance of being Reed Canary-grass.

Reeds   Of course, when looking for "the largest grass beside a river or marsh" you just might just come across one of two other much much less common plants, but which fit the description "big" and "grass-like"

1.) The Common Reed (another type of grass) - see right
   As most people who have studied grasses will tell you, you can distinguish Reed Canary-grass from the Reed by looking at the ligule - the little membrane that sticks up at the blade sheath junction. In the Canary-grass (left) it IS a membrane. In the reed (Right) it is a row of hairs.
Phalaris ligule      Phragmites ligule

2.) The Reed-mace (wrongly called Bulrush) (which is not a grass at all.)

   I would have to walk 7 km east or 4 km north respectively to find these plants - which I am not going to do - not in this snow anyway. So maybe I'll talk about these in January 2011 (or if the snow is still covering the smaller grasses I may be forced to in February this year.!)

   Put on your wellies or hiking boots and go for a walk beside a river near you and see if you can see some Reed Canary-grass


No comments: