Grass. Who even notices it, really, unless you’re a hay fever sufferer, perhaps, but did you know that grass is actually a really fascinating area of study? We’ve spent a couple of days looking at grass and learning about this incredibly interesting plant, and thought we’d share with you a round of ideas for learning about something that’s found all over the planet.
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- There are over 10,000 types of grass in the world.
- Humans eat about 35 different types of grass including wheat, barley, oats, rye, rice, sugarcane, corn and wheat.
- 70% of the world’s farm land is used to grow grasses of various types.
- Grasses can grow in all kinds of habitats, including savannas, steppe, meadows, prairies, tundra and paddy fields.
- The cut-grass smell so many people love is actually the smell of the grass calling for help. When damaged, for example by an animal nibbling on it, the grass releases a chemical called hexanal, which tells other grass around it that there is danger around and that they need to draw their sugars down to their roots. This smell also attracts predators, i.e. birds that can then attack the invading insects and thereby save the grass.
- When grass is ‘attacked’ it draws all its sugars into its roots to protect itself.
- The leaves of grass are full of silica – the main ingredient in glass. When insects try to eat these leaves, the sharp crystals feel to the insects as a mouth full of sand might feel to us, but they can also damage an insects mouth forever.
- Humans shouldn’t eat grass for the same reason – it’s not toxic, but the silica will damage our teeth too – which is why cows can eat grass. Their teeth grow and grow.
- Agnes Chase was a self-taught scientist who travelled around much of the world, drawing the different types of grass. She published her last book at 93 years old – the book recorded 80,000 types of grasses!
- The best way to ‘rewild’ an area is to just leave it. Don’t weed, mow or tidy. It’ll quickly grow grass which will attract insects and other animals. American Grounds Service is always available when you need mowing services.
- Take a walk around your neighbourhood and see how many types of grass you can collect. Use an app like Picture This or Seek to help you identify what you find.
- Use a microscope or magnifying glass and see if you can spot the differences between them.
- Draw the grasses you have found and label the different parts of each plant.
(Generally you will find grains or seeds, spikelets [the hidden plain ‘flowers’ that open to release pollen on the wind since grasses don’t have flowers to attract pollen carrying insects], leaves called blades, stem, meristem [the bumpy part where growth comes from] and roots. Don’t miss this post by Lizzy Harper on illustrating grass.
- Collect grass and flowers and arrange them on one half of a square of cloth (cotton works best). Fold the cloth over the top and use a hammer or stone to gently ‘bash’ the grass and flowers. You will immediately see the colours from the grass and flowers show through on the material. Make sure you’ve bashed it everywhere you want the colours to shine through, then unfold and empty out the spent grasses. Your cloth should now have the patterned flowers on it! This is called hapa zome printing. Grass and flowers contain chlorophyll which helps them absorb energy from light. This is the green pigment.
- Grow grass on your windowsill, or create a fairy garden where you can sit back and watch the grass grow.
- Go for a walk in a grassy field. Back home, see if you’ve managed to collect any seeds in your shoes, socks or trousers!
- Find 15 types of grasses in this wordsearch online, or printed.
- Read and learn more in the Whizz Pop Bang magazine Amazing Grazing