Grasses , plants of the natural order grami-neoe, one of the most extensive in number of species and individuals, and one of the most important in its relation to man. The stem (culm) is jointed, sometimes solid, but usually hollow, and closed at the joints (nodes); from each joint rises a leaf stalk which is broad and envelops the stem, called the sheath (vagina), which with few exceptions is split upon one side for its whole length; at the apex of the sheaths are borne the leaves, which are alternate, the blade (lamina) usually narrow, and with parallel veins; where the blade and sheath join is a small membranous appendage, the ligule, which is sometimes represented by a fringe of hairs. The flowers are arranged at the summit of the stem in strict spikes, racemes, or loose panicles, and are in spikelets, which consist of one or numerous flowers (florets). The parts of the flowers are chaffy, usually green when young and becoming straw-colored at maturity, and are described collectively as glumaceous (Lat. gluma, a husk), a term also applied to the flowers of some allied families.
In structure the flowers present some very complex forms, while that in the more common species is exceedingly simple, and may be readily understood by an examination of the common red-top, a species of agrostis, or timothy (phleum), to be found almost everywhere. A single spikelet of either of these will be found, as in the engraving of phleum, to consist of two concave scales called glumes, one placed slightly above and within the other; within these are the floret, consisting also of two scales, and the palets, the upper and inner of which is more or less covered by the outer, and usually smaller and of more delicate texture; the essential parts of the flower are within and protected by the palets; the stamens, one to six (usually three), have slender filaments with anthers attached by the middle (versatile); pistil one, with a one-celled, one-ovul-ed ovary crowned by two (rarely three) styles, the stigmas of which are feathery or hairy; the ovary in ripening becomes a grain (caryopsis), which consists of the usually adherent pericarp (the hull), within which is the seed proper, consisting of a small embryo situated at the base and on the outside of a floury albumen; at the base of the pistil are situated one or two minute scales (lodiculae), which are usually so small as to escape the notice of a careless observer, but in some genera are as long as the ovary.
This is the general structure of one-flowered grasses, but it is varied in different genera by the suppression of the upper palet, or even by the absence of both glumes, and the prolongation of the apex of one or both glumes or the lower palet into a bristle-like appendage, the awn. In the many-flowered grasses, of which hair grass (aira) will serve as a familiar illustration, there are two glumes, and within these two to several florets placed one above another upon a short axis (rachis), all of which except the upper one contain stamens and a pistil; the uppermost floret in the oat and in many other many-flowered grasses is neutral or imperfect; the lower palet in the oat is strongly many-nerved, and bears below its apex a strong and twisted awn. The numerous species of poa, including the meadow grasses, June grass, blue grass, etc, afford examples of many-flowered grasses in which the spikelets are compressed, the palets without awns, and more or less clothed with cottony hairs. The suborders of the family and the genera are founded upon various modifications of a very simple structure, some of which have been here indicated.
In the sweet-scented vernal grass we have another modification; this grass appears to be one-flowered, but it is really three-flowered, with the upper and lower florets abortive and appearing one on each side of the perfect one as an awned empty palet. In barley (hordeum) and wheat (triticum) the spikelets are sessile in the excavations of a zigzag stem or rachis; in the barley the spikelets are one-flowered, only the central one sometimes being fertile, as in two-rowed barley, and at others all three being fertile, when the spike or head becomes six-rowed, and the glumes are placed upon the side of the spikelets opposite the stem and form a bristle-like involucre. Grasses are annuals or perennials, and in some of the perennial species the root stock runs for a long distance underground, as in the couch grass, or "quack" (triticum repens), which often becomes a serious pest to the cultivator. The root stocks, improperly called roots, possess great vitality, and if broken in the processes of cultivation, each joint is capable of producing a new plant. - The genera and species of grasses are numerous, and are estimated to form 1/22 part of all known flowering plants; they are found in all parts of the world.
In temperate regions they are usually of low growth and carpet the surface of the earth-, but toward the tropics they are taller and more tree-like in habit. The extremes in stature are striking when we contrast the minute Phippsia of the arctic regions, only an inch in height, with the tropical bamboo, which elevates its stem, strong enough to serve for a mast, to the height of 00 ft. The grasses are by far the most useful of all plants, the order including wheat, barley, oats, rye, maize, rice, millet, guinea corn, and sugar cane, besides numerous less known grains which furnish breadstuff's to aboriginal people in various parts of the world, and many species used for animal food in the form of hay. In enumerating the useful qualities and harmless character of grasses, an exception has been made in the case of darnel (lolium temulentum), which has long had the reputation of producing a poisonous grain; but, as will be seen under Darnel, this is doubted. Aside from furnishing food, the economical uses of the grasses are many; some of the most important of these are given under Bamboo; other grasses furnish materials for mats, cordage, the plaiting of hats, etc.
One of the sources of paper stock has within a few years been found in the esparto grasses, ly-geum sparteum and stipa tenacissima, of the shores of the Mediterranean. Some species, as the sand reed of our coasts, and especially the tussock grass (dactylis coespitosa) of the Falkland islands, are of essential service in retaining the blowing sands. Different genera have species which are highly fragrant; the sweet-scented vernal grass (anthoxanthum odo-ratum) has a grateful vanilla-like odor, and to its presence is due the fact that the new-mown hay of the older states is so much more fragrant than that in more recently settled localities, where this grass has not yet become naturalized. Seneca grass or holy grass (hierochloa borealis), a native species, has a still more marked odor. Two or more species of andro-pogon furnish the oil-of-lemon grass or citro-nelle, used in perfumery; and the vetiver of the French comes from another species of the same genus. - Permanent Meadow and Pas-tare Grasses. The number of grasses sown by American farmers is limited; the common practice being to sow one or two sorts together with clover, mow it for hay for one or two years, and then use the field for pasturing until the land is required for cultivation.
They rarely sow grass expressly for making a permanent pasture; and as the grasses best for hay are not those most suited to grazing, our pastures are of an inferior character compared with those of England. Timothy (phleum pratense) stands at the head of the hay-making grasses. (See Timothy.) Next in order is red-top (agrostis vulgaris), also called in different localities fine - top, Rhode Island bent, Borden's grass, and in Pennsylvania and southward herd's grass, a name which in New York and New England is exclusively applied to phleum or tim-othy; it was formerly called English grass. It grows from 1 to 2 ft. high, according to situation, and has a slender open panicle of small one-flowered spikelets, the reddish color of which suggested its best known common name. It varies greatly with the character of the soil, but in no case yields as largely as timothy, and its great value is in its permanence as a pasture grass. White-top (agrostis alba) often appears spontaneously in pastures, and is readily distinguished from red-top by its' greenish white flowers; agriculturists are not agreed as to its value.
Orchard grass (dactylis glomerata) is next in importance, as it is valuable for hay, and especially so for pasturage, and it will grow better than most other grasses in the shade of trees. It is a rather coarse species, grows 3 and even 5 ft. high, and bears a dense branching panicle, on which its several-flowered spikelets are arranged in crowded, onesided clusters; it has a tendency to form tussocks, which unfits it for lawns; and for hay or pasturage the seed should be sown very thickly in order to produce a fine herbage, June grass (poa pratensis) is the most valuable of the poas; it is also known as smooth-stalked meadow grass, green grass, and Kentucky blue grass. By reason of its creeping root stocks it rapidly forms a dense turf, and is more valued for the pasture than the meadow; but it is used for hay, its after-math or second cutting being heavier than the first. It adapts itself to a wide range of country, and endures extreme cold without injury; it forms a large portion of the best pastures of Europe as well as of this country. Varying greatly in different soils and climates, it has received a number of local names besides those already given.
It attains its greatest luxuriance in the limestone regions of Kentucky, where it spontaneously takes possession of the land, or "comes in," as the farmers say. The blue-grass pastures of Kentucky have long been celebrated, and at one time it was supposed that the grass was a peculiar one; but it is now well ascertained that it is only the common June grass growing in a peculiarly genial soil and climate. So variable is this species that the English writers on grasses recognize a half dozen or more named varieties. Other species of poa are found in our fields and pastures, the principal of which are the fowl meadow grass or false red-top (P. serotina), and the roughish meadow grass (P. trivialis), which resembles June grass, but blooms in moist meadows nearly a month later. The tall fescue (festuca elatior), though rarely sown, often appears in meadows and pastures; the sheep's fescue (F.ovina) and the hard fescue (var. duriuscula) grow upon sandy hard soils, and in some localities form the bulk of the sheep pasturage. The tall meadow-oat grass (avena elatior) was some years ago overpraised as "the grass of the Andes," and fell into disrepute; but it has latterly been regarded with more favor, and is valued by those who have cultivated it.
Meadow foxtail (alope-curus pratensis) is highly prized as a pasture grass in England, and is sparingly introduced into this country; it has a resemblance to timothy, but the structure of the flowers is different, and it is much more soft to the touch. Sweet-scented vernal grass, the odor of which has been already mentioned, is common in meadows, though it is rarely sown; while it adds to the enjoyment of the haying season, it is of no agricultural value. Under the name of rescue grass, a plant was much lauded in Europe a few years ago as something that would rescue fields from sterility and farmers from ruin; the seed was sold as bromus Schra-deri, but it is probably a form of bromus unio-loides, and of little value. Italian rye grass is a form of the variable lolium perenne, other varieties of which are known as Russell's, Pacey's, and Stickney's rye grasses; it is valuable for hay, pasturage, or soiling, especially on irrigated meadows. - Annual Grasses. Among those of this class grown for hay are Hungarian grass (panicum [setaria] Germani-cum) and Italian millet (P. miliaceum), which are often useful in supplementing a short hay crop.
The foliage of some of the cereal grains is used for forage, it being cut before the grain ripens and cured like hay; oat, rye, and maize are those principally grown. - Grasses of Spontaneous Growth. Bermuda grass (cynodon dactylon) is a native of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is abundantly naturalized south of Pennsylvania. It is a low, much-branched perennial, creeping extensively by root stocks, and soon forms a dense mat that completely excludes all other vegetation. In most localities it is regarded as a troublesome weed, but it is of great value where other grasses will not grow for pasturage, and even for hay; in this country, at least, it is not known to perfect seed. Buffalo grass (buchloe dactyloides), in the prairies west of the Mississippi, extends from the British possessions to Mexico, and is the support not only of buffalo and deer, but the animals of the recent settler; it is one of the few examples of a dioecious grass, and the male and female plants are so unlike in their flowering parts that until within a few years they were regarded as belonging to distinct genera; the pistillate or female flowers are enclosed by a bur-like woody involucre; it runs extensively by stolons, and forms a dense turf, the foliage of which is but a few inches high.
Mezquite grass is often mentioned by travellers in the far southwest; like other local names in new countries, this is applied to quite different plants; it seems to be given to whatever grasses grow in the region of the mezquite tree, and species of aristida, bouteloua, and even the buffalo grass, have this name given to them by different persons. Grama grass is also praised by those who visit Spanish American countries, and comprises a number of species of bouteloua. Another indefinite name of travellers is "bunch grass," given to any kind that forms clumps or tufts; festucas, boutelouas, triticums, and eriocoma all bear this name. - Grasses regarded as Weeds. One of the most troublesome weeds of the farmer and gardener is couch grass (triticum repens), already mentioned. Chess or cheat (bromus secalinus) is a pest of the grain fields, often so abundant from unclean seed as to induce ignorant farmers to believe that wheat really turns into chess. Dogs-tail or wire grass (eleusine Indica) is a common weed in the streets of towns and villages, and encroaches upon the farms near them. Barnyard grass (panicum crus-galli) is common in waste places, and where the soil is rich grows with great luxuriance, but being an annual is easily subdued.
The crab or finger grass (panicum sanguinale) is late in summer one of the most annoying of the gardener's pests, as it roots at every joint, and unless eradicated when very young is troublesome. - Marsh Grasses. Along the margins of rivers, especially where salt and fresh water meet, there are often wide tracts covered with verdure and known as meadows or marshes. When the growth is sufficiently fine these meadows are mowed, and the product, known as marsh hay or salt hay, is largely used for bedding animals and for mulching. Often a large share of this hay consists of grasses, but frequently it is made up of rushes and sedges; a small rush (juncus Gerardi and perhaps others), called "black grass," often covers large tracts. Among the grasses proper found in such localities are species of spartina, glyceria, and phragmites. - Ornamental Grasses. Several tropical grasses are grown as greenhouse plants, and in late years the taste for cultivating the hardier kinds in the open border has greatly increased. Some of these, like erianthus Ravennoe and the pampas grass (gynerium argenteum), are grown for their stately appearance; their flower stalks grow to the height of 12 ft., and their long leaves form large clumps of graceful outline.
Other species are cultivated for the beauty of their flowers, which are dried for making ornamental bouquets. In some of the horticultural establishments of Germany bouquets of dried grasses are an article of export. - Very many kinds of grass not here enumerated are more or less well known, the more important of which are treated in separate articles, as Canary Grass, Feather Grass, Millet, Reed, etc. Many plants commonly called grasses do not belong to the grass family. In some agricultural works, clover, lucerne, sainfoin, and other forage plants are incorrectly classed as grasses; these will be found under their proper titles. - The most complete general scientific treatises upon grasses are Kunth's Enumeratio Plantarum (5 vols., Stuttgart, 1833-50) and Steudel's Synopsis Graminea-rum (Stuttgart, 1855). The species east of the Mississippi are described in Gray's "Manual of the Botany of the Northern United States" (New York, 1867) and Chapman's "Flora of the Southern United States" (New York, 1860); those of the far western portions of our territory are scattered through various reports and memoirs.
Flint's "Grasses and Forage Plants" (Boston, 1867) is the principal American work upon the agricultural grasses.
Fig. 1. - Phleum, spikelet.
Fig. 2. - Aira, spikelet.
Fig. 3. - Poa, spikelet.
Fig. 4. - Anthoxanthum, spikelet.
Fig. 5. - Sweet-scented Vernal Grass (Antho-xantnuni odoratum).
Fig. 6. - Red-top (Agrostis vulgaris).
Fig. 7. - June or Blue Grass (Poa pratensis).
Fig. 8. - Orchard Grass (Dacty-lis glomerate).
Fig. 9. - Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides). 1. Male. 2. Female.