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WILDLIFE OF NORTHERN ENGLAND

A look at some common grasses

Grasses are a common feature of our landscape , the wider countryside and in urban localities. There are a plethora of species each with their own unique features. When the flowering stems push up in to the light and air from its enveloping leaves it forms a more or less branched collection of flowers, known by botanists as the inflorescence, and in all our grasses the inflorescence consists of a principle stalk { referred to as the haulm or culm} on which shorter stalks, branched or not are arranged. This arrangement and description of the species will be dealt with in the text of the individual species below.

Poa compressa- The flat stemmed meadow grass.

 Poa compressa belongs to the family Poaceae and the genus Poa.

This is an early meadow grass which grows well on poor soils and in dry stony places, it is not regarded  as being a productive grass and is of little use to agriculture. The stem is upright, The base is decumbent, and much compressed hence the scientific name. they bear four or five somewhat short, flat, acute leaves, with rough edges and with smooth striated sheaths. The upper sheath of the same length as the leaf, and having a short obtuse ligule at the apex. There are five joints which are smooth. 

Poa compressa

 James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanaster  Creative commons attribution 2.5 Generic license

Poa compressa description continued.

The inflorescence  simple , panicled, the panicle somewhat unilateral, upright, compact, except when in flower, then it tends to spread. Branches short, the basal ones distant. The spikelets ovate, about equal sized glumes, frequently tinged with purple.

Florets of the two palae, exterior one of basal floret, three ribbed, base furnished  with a delicate web suspending the calyx. The inner palae having two green marginal ribs. Length 12 inches {30cm} the colour is dark green. the root perennial and creeping. It flowers in maid July-seeds ripe by the middle of August.

Glossary of terms

Palea refers to one of the bract-like organs in the spikelet.

Spikelet is a characteristic of the inflorescence of grasses, sedges Etc. 

 

Inflorescence--part of the plant that consists of the flower bearing stems.

Glume--one of a pair of dry membranous bracts at the base of the inflorescence especially the spiklets of grasses.

Panicle--Compound raceme {as in oat}

Raceme-- an inflorescence in which the flowers are borne along the main stem,with the oldest flowers at the base.

Ligule--- A strap-shaped membranous outgrowth at the junction between the leaf blade and sheath in many grasses. 

Spikelet

Courtesy of En Anatomia Creative commons attribution share alike 3.0 Unported license.

Bent grasses.

All the temperate regions of the world play host over 100 species of bent grasses, which belong to the Order Poales in the family Poaceae and placed in the genus Agrostis. As typical of midsummer as any grass, they begin to bloom by the waysides of June and symbolize, as do no other plants, the heat of summer with hay fields and the endless calls of the grasshopper.

Agrostis canina is found in drier places and in pastures. It has a creeping root system that sends down new rootlets from the nodes along its length.   They send up stems to the height of 75cm. The leaves of the stem are narrow and tapering. the leaf blades 2-15cm long and 1-3mm wide. there is an acute ligule up to 4mm long.

They flower in from May to July. The inflorescence is a panicle 3-16cm long and up to 7cm wide with rough branches. Each spikelet 1.9-2.5mm long the lemma 1.6mm with an awn attached to the middle. It is a species sensitive to drought and used as a lawn grass.It has no value as an agricultural grass. 

Agrostris canina photograph courtesy of James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster Creative commons attribution-share alike

Alopecurus pratensis the meadow Foxtail

This species grows in meadows and pastures thriving on clay and heavy soils, it flowers from April to June. The root system is perennial reaching 14 inches in depth, fibrous and creeping, prostrate stolons which root at intervals.

The stem is erect , smooth, striated, the nodes are smooth. the leaves are rolled in bud, bases of the radical leaves purplish, stem leaves dark green, with a rough texture.  The ribs of the upper surface prominent and flat. Sheaths purplish, the ligule thick, shorter than broad, blunt and hairy on the back.

Spike, silvery grey, dense with a pointed apex, the base obtuse. Spikelets flat and elliptical, crowded, overlapping, numerous with one floret. Glumes are equal, acute, slightly joined at the base hairy on the keel. They is no awns.

The outer palae smaller than the glumes, two green ribs on each side, awned from middle of the back, awn silky, bent, very long. Inner palae generally absent, and when present sometimes awned. 

Alopecurus pratensis Illustration

Meadow foxtail continued

the meadow foxtail is the only valuable agricultural grass of the genus. It possesses quality, quantity and earliness. it is most productive on clay and heavy soils. In many pastures it is the principle grass, its herbage being so abundant in proportion to its stalk.

It is also good for hay and yields an excellent aftermath. It does well in wet meadows.  However, although it is hardly touched by frosts  the roots may rot if beaten down by to much rain. The bulk of it is cut when in flower. The seed is greyish brown, darker on one side. records show that a bushel of it weighed only 12 pounds and it was calculated that there were 3,724,380 seeds to each bushel. In times gone by nearly two thirds of the grain is eaten by insects, and, to prevent this from happening, it was generally collected early in the season. It was one of the first seeds to be sown as pasture grass by the British farmer.

Timothy grass Phleum pratense.

Photograph courtesy of Blokenearexeter. 

Timothy grass. Phleum pratense

This grass is tall and the  spike is cylindrical, elongated. Glumes ciliate on the back,tipped with a short bristle, leaves along, flat, rough with long sheaths.

The roots are perennial, fibrous when in moist soils , on dry soils the roots are often bulbous. It grows best on damp peaty soils. Flowers the end of June and ripens seeds in July and August.

In the western United States it was referred to as Hurd's grass and was first introduced and brought into cultivation in the State of Maryland by Timothy Hanson, who built the first grist mill on Jones'Falls about the year 1720. When it first came to notice it was referred to as Timothy Hanson's grass and sold in 'Baltimore Town', by that name. the character and name of the grass was soon establishes by the fine crops of it grown on the Hanson Farm, and the name it received then will in all probabilty remain with it.

It was supposed to have been introduced to England from Virginia in about 1760, and for years afterwards its cultivation was confined to moist and newly reclaimed peaty or moorish soils.

It grows to the height of 19-59 inches tall with leaves up to 17 inches long and half an inch broad. The cylindrical flower head is two and a half to six and a half inches long. It flowers from June to September. 

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