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Grasses

Grass is one of the largest and most varied families in the plant kingdom. Some kind of grass can be found on almost every land surface of the earth. Grasses grow in swamps and deserts; in subzero polar regions and hot tropical areas; on rocky land; and on cold, snowy mountains.

Grasses range from the short kinds found in lawns to woody, tall bamboos from which some furniture is made. Cereal grasses such as wheat, oats, barley, and corn are made into flour which is in turn made into breads, pastas, and many other food products. Most of the sugar we eat comes from a grass plant called sugar cane. Brewers and distillers use corn and barley in making alcoholic beverages. Cattle and other livestock survive on a steady diet of pasture grasses during the summer months, and on hay (dried grass) and silage (cut grasses and grains) during the winter. Paper can be made from the leaves and stems of some grasses.

Grass also beautifies the landscape and plays an important part in soil conservation. It forms an attractive surface for lawns, parks, and playgrounds. It helps to save the fertile topsoil from ersoion. Grass covers the surface of the soil, and its roots hold the soil particles together so that wind cannot easily blow the particles away and water cannot wash them away.

Grasses may be either annual or perennial. Annual grasses die at the end of the growing season, and new seed must be planted at the beginning of the next season. Perennial grasses live through the winter and grow again each year.

Grasses may be classified into six main groups: grazing and forage grasses, turfgrasses, ornamental grasses, cereals, sugar cane, and woody grasses.

Below are ten of the most commonly seen grasses (in the United States), along with information concerning how they are "used." The insets focus on the flowers of each respective grass.

Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon) is used in lawns, golf courses, and pastures. It is also planted to control soil erosion. The plants have rhizomes and stolons that are from 2 inches to more than 20 feet long. The grass grows as high as 6 feet. Its blades are flat and from 1 to 6 inches long.   Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparius) is distributed widely throughout the United States, but is most abundant in Kansas and Oklahoma. It grows from 2 to 4 feet high and has narrow flat leaves 4 to 8 inches long. The blades are green when young, but turn reddish-brown when the plant matures.
Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis) is grown for pasture with buffalo grass. It grows from 1 to 2 feet high and is very leafy at the base. It has narrow blades from 3 to 6 inches long. It is found mostly in the Great Plains.   Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata) is grown for hay and pasture grass. It is one of the first grasses to turn green in the spring, providing early grazing. It grows in bunches with stems 2 to 4 feet high. It can be identified by its tightly clustered flowers.
Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) forms a thick gray-green sod and spreads by stolons. It grows from 4 to 6 inches high and can be identified by its burrlike female flower cluster. Buffalo grass is found throughout the Great Plains. It can withstand heavy grazing.   Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) is used for hay and pasture grass. It grows from 3 to 4 feet high and is very leafy. The blades are from 6 to 12 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide. The plant has a loose, spreading flower cluster.
Crested Wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum) is good for animal feed and lawn grass. It grows in bunches with stems from 10 to 40 inches high. The blades are about 1/4 wide and from 6 to 10 inches long. The plant has spikelike flower clusters from 2 to 3 inches long.   Sudan Grass (Sorghum vulgare sudanense) makes good hay, pasture grass, and silage because it grows fast and can withstand dry weather. It has many fine stems and grows from 4 to 7 feet high. It has many narrow blades, and its flower clusters range from 6 to 18 inches long.
Kentucky Bluegrass (Pos pratensis) is a valuable and widely grown pasture and lawn grass. It grows from 1 to 3 feet high. The tip of the blade is curved in the shape of a bow of a boat. Rhizomes spread out from the plant to start new plants.   Timothy (Phleum pratense) is an important kind of grass used for hay. It grows from 20 to 40 inches high. Its many stems make up large bunches of grass. Timothy flower clusters have a cylindrical shape.

Scientific Classification

Division Magnoliophyta
Class Liliatae
Order Cyperales
Family Gramineae

SEE ALSO
Wheat
Barley
Corn

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This page was last updated on 01/09/2017.