When you hear the word "grass" you probably think about the kind that grows on your lawn. While Americans love their yards, this ancient crop has many uses and varieties beyond the lawns we grow. Here are six things you might not know about grass.
1. Grass is Ancient
Most grasses are actually very old, and have been around for around 60 million years, thus making them very wise! A kind of seagrass from the Mediterranean Sea was clocked by scientists at around 200,000 years old, but seagrass is not a "true" grass and not a member of the "Poaceae" family of terrestrial grasses.
Unlike most plants, grass grows from its base, which is an evolutionary trick used for protection against grazing animals. The low growth point allows them to be eaten, cut or mowed, and continue to grow without any repercussions to the plant’s health. Their root systems are so well-developed that grass-covered spaces can help prevent erosion on hillsides and escarpments by keeping the soil in place.
2. Grass is a Good Oxygen Producer
The kind of grass that grows on lawns is great at trapping pollution and carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen back into the air. This is one of the benefits of having a healthy lawn outside your home—a 250 square-foot lawn can greatly increase the amount of oxygen needed for a family of four, which can be more effective than a few surrounding trees. Your lawn will also improve air quality by trapping airborne dust particles and other toxins in the air. It’s great at reducing noise pollution and cooling down your home in extreme heat, especially when compared to hardscapes like concrete and asphalt.
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3. Grasses Are a Major Food (and Booze) Source!
Approximately 70 percent of all food sources for humans come from grasses in the form of grain. Rice, wheat, and corn make up the largest portion, but rye, barley, millet, and oats are also responsible for the cereals and breads we eat on a regular basis. Grass is also used extensively for animal agriculture, and many wild animals are heavy grazers. Let’s not forget the things humans drink, as well: beer is made with malted barley, and sometimes wheat or rice for certain brews. Whiskey, rye, gin, and vodka are all made from fermented grain mash. Rum comes from sugarcane, and yes, sugarcane is a grass that is also responsible for most of our sweet tooths.
4. Grasses are Found on Every Continent
Grassland makes up around 30-40 percent of the Earth’s surface, and lives on every continent - including Antarctica, where the Antarctic hair grass is one of only two flowering plants. There are over 1,200 species of grass making it one of the most abundant and highly consumed plant groups around the world. From prairies to savannahs, various kinds of grasses grow in both temperate and tropical climates.
5. Lawns are Big Business
Americans spend around 30-40 billion a year on lawn care and supplies, including 70 million pounds of pesticides. The average homeowner spends approximately four hours a week, or 200 hours in one year in lawn maintenance. That’s 5 work weeks a year for a lush lawn. Ground cover lawns do not require the same amount of labour, fertilizer, or herbicide. Just sayin’.
6. Grass Gets Stressed Like the Rest of Us
The type of grass that’s grown as lawns can experience a multitude of conditions, but drought and excess rain or heat can really bring it down. It’s at this time that you don’t want to mess with it – keep your mower in the garage until it dries up, greens up, and cools down. While you’re at it, try and switch up the direction that you cut it every week or so. You can cut it horizontally and diagonally each two ways, giving you four main cutting patterns to keep your grass happy and lush – and pesticide free!
From the tall stalks of corn to the tiniest of blades, grasses are some of the most abundant and productive species around. They can be illustrious or industrious; ornamental or edible, but there’s still one question that remains: is the grass always greener on the other side?
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