The Smell of Grass is the Smell of Fear

Here’s something you’ve probably never considered before, but why does grass have the smell that it does when we cut it? It’s a great smell after all, it’s probably just a gift from nature to reward us for our lawn mowing efforts, right?

Well as it turns out no, the smell is actually the result of something far more distressing, quite literally.

When grass is cut the chemicals released at the site of the ‘wound’ on each grass leaf are designed to serve one of several purposes. Some are designed to help close or cauterise the wound, in much the same way as our blood clots at the site of a minor cut or scratch. Some behave like antibodies, to try and prevent any infection getting in, while some (and this is the really interesting part) act as distress signals.

Yes you read it here first folks, grass cries out in terror when you cut it.

Don’t let your concience get the better of you just yet though, this doesn’t mean the grass is physically in pain, the grass doen’t have pain receptors, or indeed a brain to process it in the way we do. Rather this is a biological reaction to simply try and preserve the life of the plant.

An example of how this reaction works to the advantage of the grass was noted in one study with caterpillers. Scientists discovered that the saliva of the caterpillers reacted with said ‘distress chemicals’ to make them more desirable to predators such as larger insects, bees and wasps. So as you can imagine there’s some quite complex evolutionary mechanisms at play to lead to such a sequence of events. Such is the wonder of nature!

So whilst on the one hand the cut grass is in ‘distress’, on the other hand we get not only an olfactory treat, but also invite beneficial insects to the grass such as bees to enable the pollination of other plant life in our gardens. By cutting the grass we are in effect, simply speeding up natural processes that take place in our garden ecosystems already.

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