WHO in the sweet summer-time has not thanked God for the green fields, and thought, with Johnson Barker,
"What a desert-like spot would this life of ours be, If, amid sands of sin, no glimpse could we see
Of some green-knotted garland of grass - Some oasis bright, a glad hope to impart, That the sun of the sky, and the sun of the heart,
Still abide in the road we must pass " ?
And ere we proceed to the wild moorland - to the mountain and the heather-clad uplands - let us rest awhile in a grassy nook and contemplate the bumble beauty of the simple grass. "The story of the grass," says Shirley Hibberd, in his "Brambles and Bay-leaves," " is the story of the world. Ere the creatures of the flood and field existed, the earth brought forth grass and herbs, so that when the earth should bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping thing, they should find sustenance and enjoyment; and man, waking up from chaos at the will of the Omnipotent, should find himself in a home of greenness, with a soft carpet for his feet, a refreshing verdure to gladden his eyes, and a living beauty to imbue his heart with holiness and peace." Travellers have told us that the most sublime scenes on the face of the earth are often wanting in the higher elements of beauty; for you may look in vain for a grassy knoll or quiet spot of delicious greenery, such as are common in our own land.
As we have wandered in search of the brighter coloured wildings of Nature, we have seen the tall Brome creeping through the brambles, and showing its graceful oat-like spray above the undergrowth of vegetation. We have seen it bending in luxuriant masses over the broad stream, and hidden away in the silent depths of the woodland, or sparkling in the glades of the forest. We have felt its elasticity and wire-like texture under our feet on the wild moorland. It is ever present in our landscape, and as it is one of the most common, it is one of the most interesting and useful of the tribes or families of the vegetable world, yet it has been strangely neglected. Ferns and seaweeds have been popularized, but the "grass of the field," in all its varied beauty of form and foliage, has been apparently overlooked; yet there are but few objects in Nature more beautiful or more graceful than a group of grasses. A higher taste is now spreading. The lordly Pampas Grass waves its pennons on our lawns, and the variegated Ribbon Grass finds a place in many a garden, and the Hare's-tail, Panic, and Quaking Grasses, alternate with flowers in the gay parterre.
1 Canary Grass. 2. Meadow Grass. 3. Millet Grass. 4 Meadow Fescue. 5. Cock's-foot. 6. Water Sweet Grass. 7. Darnel. 8. Meadow Foxtail. 9. Rouch Brome Grass. 10. Wall Barley Grass. 11. Quaki g Grass. 12. Common Sedge. 13. Cyperus Sedge.
Let us cull a few specimens of this much-neglected tribe of plants, as we sit with the soft flowing river murmuring onward, and reflecting our grassy friends on its silvery surface. The common grass is the simplest form of a perfect plant. Prom its tufty fibrous root there shoots a slender stem, clothed with long and narrow alternate leaves. Along these leaves the veins run side by side from one end to the other. In the true grasses the stems are round and hollow, and the sheaths of the leaves open on one side. They range in height from two inches, as in the Sand Cat's-tail, to eighty feet in the lordly Bamboo. In the Sedge tribe, however, the cylindrical form is absent, and the stem is angular and solid, but the leaf-sheaths form perfect cylinders. The highest leaf on the stem of the grass acts as a cradle for the young buds, until they are sufficiently formed to emerge into the open day. In the sedges, the male and female parts of the flower.
That is, the stamens and pistils, are in separate florets, sometimes in separate spikes. Both the sedges and grasses have three stamens, and most of them two pistils. The sedges have no calyx or corolla; the male flowers are accompanied by a tiny leaf or bract, and the female by a few bristles. In the true grasses the flower consists of glumes and paleoe. That part of the plant which is called calyx, is called glume in grasses, and paleoe for corolla; they are both neither more nor less than inner and outer chaffy scales. The bristle which often accompanies the flower of the grass is called an awn. There are always three stamens, with one exception, and form an object of beauty during their brief continuance, as they fringe lightly and delicately the spike or panicle. There are generally two pistils, but there is one exception in the Mat Grass (Nardus stricta). Its narrow and plentiful leaves grow in a thick mat: its narrow spike contains but one row of florets, which throw out a fringe of purple anthers, generally on one side only. The foliage is dark green. It frequents moors and hill pastures, where its roots form a thick mat.
The Sweet Vernal Grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) which forms the exception to the grasses having three stamens, we shall find where we sit. This is a small annual grass. Its flowers are contained in short spike-heads, broader at the bottom than the top, and not very compact. This gives out when drying the sweet fragrance of the hay-field, and it flowers earlier in the spring than the majority of grasses.
For the distinguishing characteristics of the other grasses around us, we must look to the marks in the glumes and paleoe; for all other grasses have three stamens and two pistils.
Let us take the Foxtail family first, for they are easily distinguished, and are common enough, lording it over meadow and corn-fields, and frequenting the road-sides and sludgy marsh. In this family, known under the generic title of Alopecurus, the two or three glumes enclose a single floret only. They may be known by their cylindrical spikes covered with orange coloured anthers. The Meadow Foxtail (A. pratensis) is one of the early meadow grasses, and grows like its relative the Slender Foxtail (A. agrestis), which flowers later, by the road-side and in the corn-fields, to the height of three feet. By the margin of pools we may find the Floating Foxtail (A. geniculatus) : its rough stem, bent at the joints, distinguishes it from its more terrestrial namesakes. There are two other Foxtails, the Alpine and the Bulbous; the latter frequents salt marshes.