Wonderful, omnipresent, humble grass

You find them in every habitat on every corner of land, excluding the poles. With their shallow roots they hold our soils and without them there will be no soil. They get grazed, burnt, cut, trampled and rolled for sports fields, and just keep growing.

With an underground rhizome they survive the dry, cold weather and start fresh every season, growing from the base. They are resistant to grazing and burning to a large degree. They also dont produce chemicals like other plants to deter plant eaters. This makes grasslands very productive habitats, the foundation of every stock farm. They also abound with insects and other creatures. Scientists who studied the ecology of savannas in the 80’s calculated that grasshoppers eat more grass than all the large grazers like buffalo and zebra together.

Because dry grass can burn, the grass plant indirectly shapes our bushveld landscape. Fire is the one major factor which determines whether we have open savanna, woodland or forest. In the past large herds of grazers also played a role, which today only happen on reserves. There is a grass species fit for every soil type, be it rich or poor soil, well drained or water logged soil, stony or deep soil, overgrazed, overburnt land or well rested land. The species composition in grassland changes all the time, fluctuating between a pioneer and climax stage. This dynamic interaction between grass and soil and its dense growth makes grass very important for the conservation of soil and water catchments.

Because they dont rely so much on insects for pollination, their flowers are not colorful, sweet smelling or full of nectar. The grass flower actually consists of many small flowers sitting on a spikelet. This open design helps the pollen to float off in a breeze. Nevertheless pollen collectors like bees will not miss this rich source of pollen. The arrangement of the flowers and spikelets is important when classifying and identifying grass species.

Proper grassland occur on the highveld where its too cold for trees to grow. These are easy to access, work and plow and are under presure from agriculture, forestry and mining.

Lood Wentzel
Lood Wentzel

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