The Poaceae are the most economically important plant family, providing staple foods from domesticated cereal crops such as maize, wheat, rice, barley, and millet as well as feed for meat-producing animals. They provide, through direct human consumption, just over one-half (51%) of all dietary energy; rice provides 20%, wheat supplies 20%, maize (corn) 5.5%, and other grains 6%. Some members of the Poaceae are used as building materials (bamboo, thatch, and straw); others can provide a source of biofuel, primarily via the conversion of maize to ethanol.
In this post, Pritish Kumar Halder takes a brief look at perennial herbs which is also known as Gramineae. Read the full blog.
Grasses have stems that are hollow except at the nodes and narrow alternate leaves borne in two ranks. The lower part of each leaf encloses the stem, forming a leaf-sheath. The leaf grows from the base of the blade, an adaptation allowing it to cope with frequent grazing.
Grasslands such as savannah and prairie where grasses are dominant are estimated to constitute 40.5% of the land area of the Earth, excluding Greenland and Antarctica. Grasses are also an important part of the vegetation in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests and tundra.
Grasses may be annual or perennial herbs, generally with the following characteristics. The stems of grasses, called culms, are usually cylindrical (more rarely flattened, but not 3-angled) and are hollow, plugged at the nodes, where the leaves are attached. Grass leaves are nearly always alternate and distichous (in one plane), and have parallel veins.
Each leaf is differentiated into a lower sheath hugging the stem and a blade with entire (i.e., smooth) margins. The leaf blades of many grasses are hardened with silica phytoliths, which discourage grazing animals; some, such as sword grass, are sharp enough to cut human skin. A membranous appendage or fringe of hairs called the ligule lies at the junction between sheath and blade, preventing water or insects from penetrating into the sheath.
Flowers of Poaceae are characteristically arranged in spikelets, each having one or more florets. The spikelets are further grouped into panicles or spikes. The part of the spikelet that bears the florets is called the rachilla. A spikelet consists of two (or sometimes fewer) bracts at the base, called glumes, followed by one or more florets. A floret consists of the flower surrounded by two bracts, one external—the lemma—and one internal—the palea.
The flowers are usually hermaphroditic—maize being an important exception—and mainly anemophilous or wind-pollinated, although insects occasionally play a role. The perianth is reduced to two scales, called lodicules that expand and contract to spread the lemma and palea; these are generally interpreted to be modified sepals. The fruit of grasses is a caryopsis, in which the seed coat is fused to the fruit wall. A tiller is a leafy shoot other than the first shoot produced from the seed.
Growth and development
Grass blades grow at the base of the blade and not from elongated stem tips. This low growth point evolved in response to grazing animals and allows grasses to be grazed or mown regularly without severe damage to the plant. Three general classifications of growth habit present in grasses: bunch-type (also called caespitose), stoloniferous, and rhizomatous. The success of the grasses lies in part in their morphology and growth processes and in part in their physiological diversity.
There are both C3 and C4 grasses, referring to the photosynthetic pathway for carbon fixation. The C4 grasses have a photosynthetic pathway, linked to specialized Kranz leaf anatomy, which allows for increased water use efficiency, rendering them better adapted to hot, arid environments.
The C3 grasses are referred to as “cool-season” grasses, while the C4 plants are considered “warm-season” grasses.
Annual cool-season – wheat, rye, annual bluegrass (annual meadowgrass, Poa annua), and oat
Perennial cool-season – orchardgrass (cocksfoot, Dactylis glomerata), fescue (Festuca spp.), Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Annual warm-season – maize, sudangrass, and pearl millet
Perennial warm-season – big bluestem, Indiangrass, Bermudagrass and switchgrass.
Although the C4 species are all in the PACMAD clade (see diagram above), it seems that various forms of C4 have arisen some twenty or more times, in various subfamilies or genera. In the Aristida genus for example, one species (A. longifolia) is C3 but the approximately 300 other species are C4. As another example, the whole tribe of Andropogon, which includes maize, sorghum, sugar cane, “Job’s tears”, and bluestem grasses, is C4. Around 46 percent of grass species are C4 plants.
Of all crops grown, 70% are grasses. Agricultural grasses grown for their edible seeds are called cereals or grains (although the latter term, when used agriculturally, refers to both cereals and similar seeds of other plant species, such as buckwheat and legumes). Three cereals—rice, wheat, and maize (corn)—provide more than half of all calories consumed by humans.
Cereals constitute the major source of carbohydrates for humans and perhaps the major source of protein; these include rice (in southern and eastern Asia), maize (in Central and South America), and wheat and barley (in Europe, northern Asia and the Americas).
Lawn and ornamental use
Grasses are the primary plant used in lawns, which themselves derive from grazed grasslands in Europe. They also provide an important means of erosion control, especially on sloping land. Grass lawns are an important covering of playing surfaces in many sports, including football (soccer), American football, tennis, golf, cricket, softball and baseball.
Ornamental grasses, such as perennial bunch grasses, are used in many styles of garden design for their foliage, inflorescences, seed heads. They are often used in natural landscaping, xeriscaping and slope and beach stabilization in contemporary landscaping, wildlife gardening, and native plant gardening. They are used as screens and hedges.
The gray area is the cricket pitch currently in use. Parallel to it are other pitches in various states of preparation which could be used in other matches.
In cricket, the pitch is the strip of carefully mowed and rolled grass where the bowler bowls. In the days leading up to the match it is repeatedly mowed and rolled to produce a very hard, flat surface for the ball to bounce off.
Grass on golf courses is kept in three distinct conditions: that of the rough, the fairway, and the putting green. Grass on the fairway is mown short and even, allowing the player to strike the ball cleanly. Playing from the rough is a disadvantage because the long grass may affect the flight of the ball. Grass on the putting green is the shortest and most even, ideally allowing the ball to roll smoothly over the surface. An entire industry revolves around the development and marketing of turf grass varieties.
In tennis, grass is grown on very hard-packed soil, and the bounce of a tennis ball may vary depending on the grass’s health, how recently it has been mowed, and the wear and tear of recent play. The surface is softer than hard courts and clay (other tennis surfaces), so the ball bounces lower, and players must reach the ball faster resulting in a different style of play which may suit some players more than others. Among the world’s most prestigious court for grass tennis is Centre Court at Wimbledon, London which hosts the final of the annual Wimbledon Championships in England, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments.