For those lucky enough to rent or live in a home with a decent garden a well kept lawn can often (irrationally some might say!) become a bit of an obsession. Striving to get the thickest, healthiest and greenest looking lawn in the neighbourhood is both a fascinating art, and a wonder of science. But just how does grass do it’s thing, why is it green, and why is it so important, not just to us but to the health of the planet in general?
Grass is the generic name for a family of plants of which there are more species than any other plant on Earth, around 9000 to be precise. It’s just as well that grass is in such great abundance, not least because it’s one of the most important food sources for both humans and animals. Most livestock animals a fed a diet that is predominantly grass based, and grains such as oats, and rice are all sourced from grass plants. Grass is also a key ingredient in many things from alcoholic drinks, to bread, and even plastics.
Part of the success of grass as a species lies in it’s simplicity, and inherent ability to multiply with an almost parasitic level of persistance. Like all plants, each grass ‘blade’ has roots that extend below the soil in a capillary like network that draw water and nutrients into the main body of the plant. The body of the grass is made up of a hollow stem, called a Culm, and a blade like leaf that projects up from this, forming the familiar visible part of the plant. The leaves serve to do more than provide an attractive feature for your garden, they also collect the Sun’s energy in a process called photosynthesis, and it’s the green coloured pigment in the leaves, known as chlorophyll, that enables the grass to do this.
Like all plants grasses are asexual, meaning that they contain both male and female reproductive parts. Whilst not usually easy to spot, grasses do in fact have flowers, known as florets these produce the pollon that fertilises other plants, which in turn produces new grass seeds. Alternatively long stems called stolons and rhizomes establish new plants by ‘reaching’ beyond the parent plant and establishing new ones, once the new plants are established and able to support themselves these stems break away. Hence when this process is left to its own devices a lawn can become overcome with these dead stems, or ‘thatch’, which more often than not requires that you remove it or risk the overall health of the lawn.