In June and early July I noticed grass. I suppose it’s there all the time, but it was particularly lush and noticeable around then. So I decided to make a feeble attempt to identify a handful of those I saw. I expect some of you know far more about grasses than I do, so feel free to chip in with the correct identification if I am way out.
I have TRIED to identify all these grasses, mainly using a book I have called Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens of Great Britain and Ireland by Roger Phillips. It narrows the identification down, but I do have trouble even recognising the same grass in different states of maturity.
In between the sections on the various grasses, I have inserted some “musings” about words related to grass and books with “grass” in the title…
The first grass that caught my attention was a meadow of pink between the houses and the lime-tree avenue in Cardiff’s Pontcanna. I had never noticed it before and had to take lots of pictures while it lasted. I believe it may be Holcus lanatus, which also has the very appealing name of Yorkshire fog.
Holcus lanatus or Yorkshire fog
According to Wikipedia Holcus lanatus is a perennial grass. The word lanatus is Latin for “woolly”. As well as Yorkshire fog, it is sometimes called tufted grass or meadow soft grass.
Here’s something similar…
If you think about it, grasses are tremendously important. All our domesticated cereal crops are grasses – wheat, barley and oats, millet, rice and even maize, which in its robust cultivated form does not look particularly like a grass.
All these are in the plant family Poaceae, although that’s another example where I prefer the older family name, Gramineae, which seems far more meaningful, with gramen being Latin for “grass”.
A while back I read a classic science fiction book called The Death of Grass by John Christopher – as its name possibly suggests, it is a post-apocalyptic novel about what happens when a virus destroys all the world’s cereal crops.
Dactylis glomerata or cocksfoot
I am hoping this is another where I am on safe ground. I can usually recognise this lumpy grass but I admit I didn’t know the name for it until I looked it up.
According to Wikipedia, Dactylis glomerata is also known as cocksfoot, orchard grass or cat grass (apparently cats sometimes nibble it, maybe to aid digestion or bring up fur balls).
This one is a guess…
It was a case of “the death of grass” when late July and August came in these parts, as it is a time when suddenly council workmen everywhere take out their strimmers and mowers and ravage every roadside verge or patch of grass and wildflowers. I suppose it has to be done and the grasses do come back again.
Apparently the word “mow” comes originally from the Latin metere, “to reap or mow”, via the Old English mawen. I can also see how from that Latin word we got math, meaning “a mowing”, from the Old English maeth. An “aftermath” is a second mowing – or “consequences”.
Hordeum murinum or wall barley
I feel pretty confident in this one, which I spotted on a patch of rough ground next to a terraced house while I had grasses on my mind.
According to Wikipedia Hordeum murinum is also known as false barley or wall barley, although as a child I called it wild barley. Even now I enjoy plucking the heads and using them as darts that stick to clothes. Ah, the chases and fights we had!
There’s another classic science fiction book, which I read straight after The Death of Grass, called All Flesh is Grass by Clifford D Simak. In this one, aliens enclose a town in an invisible barrier and try to make friends. I can’t recall why it’s called All Flesh is Grass, unless it’s because the aliens take the form of purple flowers.
The line “All flesh is grass” appears twice in the Bible, in Isaiah and in the epistle of St Peter. In some translations it reads “All people are like grass”. The quotes go on to suggest we wither and die just like grass.
I suppose sometimes we are reaped, too. “Reap” tends to mean to harvest the crop, rather than just mow down the grass. It comes from the Old English ripan, which may have some connection with the word “ripe”, although nowhere can I find any connection further back than the Germanic languages.
There’s another science fiction novel called just Grass by Sheri Tepper. In this case it’s called that because it is about a prairie planet where the protagonist goes to try to find a cure for a plague affecting humanity.
Lolium or rye grass
I found this in my own garden and I may be wrong in my identification. I think it is a species of rye grass (Lolium), but it could be couch grass (Agropyron).
Looking at Wikipedia I suspect it would likely be Lolium perenne or Lolium multiflorum?
My final literary reference to grass is Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. The title is Whitman making light of his work. “Leaves” can obviously mean pages, but apparently publishers called not very good works “grass”.
I have a soft spot for this book of poems because when I was in the sixth form at school we were given subjects for a project. The English teacher naturally gave us all subjects that would test us, meaning subjects we didn’t like. I was given “Arnold Schoenberg”, having no interest in modern atonal music. My best friend was very musical and not interested in his subject of “Walt Whitman”. We swapped. Surprisingly the English master hid his exasperation and accepted this.
I recall ordering Leaves of Grass from my local library and when it arrived it was HUGE. I did enjoy reading it, though, and writing the project.
For these next grasses I am TOTALLY out of my depth, but I will call them…
All these grasses look so different when they are closed and when the heads open up that I just CANNOT identify them. My guesses would be something like a meadow grass (Poa), bent grass (Agrostis) or conceivable tussock grass (Deschampsia).
What to finish with? Well of course, it has to be Wales’s own Tom Jones with The Green, Green Grass of Home – enjoy it again here on YouTube…
If you want to sing along, you’ll find the lyrics here.