Blades of grass
Poaceae (Poe-ay-see-ay) or Gramineae (Grammy-nee-ay) is a large and
nearly ubiquitous family of monocotyledonous flowering plants known as
Poaceae includes the cereal grasses, bamboos and the grasses
of natural grassland and cultivated lawns and pasture. Grasses have
stems that are hollow except at the nodes and narrow alternate leaves
borne in two ranks. The lower part of each leaf encloses the stem,
forming a leaf-sheath. With around 780 genera and around 12,000
Poaceae are the fifth-largest plant family, following the
Fabaceae and Rubiaceae.
Grasslands such as savannah and prairie where grasses are dominant are
estimated to constitute 40.5% of the land area of the Earth, excluding
Greenland and Antarctica. Grasses are also an important part of the
vegetation in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests and
Poaceae are the most economically important plant family,
providing staple foods from domesticated cereal crops such as maize,
wheat, rice, barley, and millet as well as forage, building materials
(bamboo, thatch, straw) and fuel (ethanol).
Though they are commonly called "grasses", seagrasses, rushes, and
sedges fall outside this family. The rushes and sedges are related to
the Poaceae, being members of the order Poales, but the seagrasses are
members of order Alismatales.
2 Evolutionary history
4 Growth and development
8.1 Food production
Lawn and ornamental use
8.5 Economically important grasses
9 Role in society
10 In popular culture
11 Image gallery
12 See also
14 External links
Poaceae was given by
John Hendley Barnhart in 1895,:7
based on the tribe
Poeae described in 1814 by Robert Brown, and the
Poa described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus. The term is derived
from the Ancient Greek πόα (póa, “fodder”).
Grasses include some of the most versatile plant life-forms. They
became widespread toward the end of the
Cretaceous period, and
fossilized dinosaur dung (coprolites) have been found containing
phytoliths of a variety that include grasses that are related to
modern rice and bamboo. Grasses have adapted to conditions in lush
rain forests, dry deserts, cold mountains and even intertidal
habitats, and are currently the most widespread plant type; grass is a
valuable source of food and energy for all sorts of wildlife and
A cladogram shows subfamilies and approximate species numbers in
Bambusoideae – bamboos (1450)
Before 2005, fossil findings indicated that grasses evolved around 55
million years ago. Recent findings of grass-like phytoliths in
Cretaceous dinosaur coprolites have pushed this date back to 66
million years ago. In 2011, revised dating of the origins of
the rice tribe
Oryzeae suggested a date as early as 107 to 129
Mya. A multituberculate mammal with "grass-eating" adaptations
seems to suggest that grasses were around at 120 mya.[dubious –
Wu, You & Li (in press) described grass microfossils extracted
from a specimen of the hadrosauroid dinosaur
Equijubus normani from
Early Cretaceous (Albian) Zhonggou Formation (China). The authors
India became separated from Antarctica, and therefore also
all other continents, approximately at the beginning of late Aptian,
so the presence of grasses in both
China during the
Cretaceous indicates that the ancestor of Indian grasses must have
existed before late Aptian. Wu, You & Li considered the Barremian
origin for grasses to be probable
The relationships among the three subfamilies Bambusoideae, Oryzoideae
Pooideae in the
BOP clade have been resolved:
Pooideae are more closely related to each other than to
Oryzoideae. This separation occurred within the relatively short
time span of about 4 million years.
Lester Charles King the spread of grasses in the Late
Cenozoic would have changed patterns of hillslope evolution favouring
slopes that are convex upslope and concave downslope and lacking a
free face were common. King argued that this was the result of more
slowly acting surface wash caused by carpets of grass which in turn
would have resulted in relatively more soil creep.
Diagram of a typical lawn grass plant.
Grasses may be annual or perennial herbs,:10 generally with the
following characteristics (the image gallery can be used for
reference): The stems of grasses, called culms, are usually
cylindrical (more rarely flattened, but not 3-angled) and are hollow,
plugged at the nodes, where the leaves are attached. Grass
leaves are nearly always alternate and distichous (in one plane), and
have parallel veins.:11 Each leaf is differentiated into a lower
sheath hugging the stem and a blade with entire (i.e., smooth)
margins.:11 The leaf blades of many grasses are hardened with
silica phytoliths, which discourage grazing animals; some, such as
sword grass, are sharp enough to cut human skin. A membranous
appendage or fringe of hairs called the ligule lies at the junction
between sheath and blade, preventing water or insects from penetrating
into the sheath.:11
Parts of a spikelet
Poaceae are characteristically arranged in spikelets, each
having one or more florets.:12 The spikelets are further grouped
into panicles or spikes. The part of the spikelet that bears the
florets is called the rachilla. A spikelet consists of two (or
sometimes fewer) bracts at the base, called glumes, followed by one or
more florets.:13 A floret consists of the flower surrounded by two
bracts, one external—the lemma—and one internal—the palea. The
flowers are usually hermaphroditic—maize being an important
exception—and anemophilous or wind-pollinated. The perianth is
reduced to two scales, called lodicules,:11 that expand and
contract to spread the lemma and palea; these are generally
interpreted to be modified sepals. This complex structure can be seen
in the image on the right, portraying a wheat (Triticum aestivum)
spikelet. The fruit of grasses is a caryopsis, in which the seed coat
is fused to the fruit wall.:16 A tiller is a leafy shoot other
than the first shoot produced from the seed.:11
Growth and development
Grass blades grow at the base of the blade and not from elongated stem
tips. This low growth point evolved in response to grazing animals and
allows grasses to be grazed or mown regularly without severe damage to
Three general classifications of growth habit present in grasses:
bunch-type (also called caespitose), stoloniferous, and
rhizomatous. The success of the grasses lies in part
in their morphology and growth processes and in part in their
physiological diversity. Most of the grasses divide into two
physiological groups, using the C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways for
carbon fixation. The C4 grasses have a photosynthetic pathway, linked
to specialized Kranz leaf anatomy, which allows for increased water
use efficiency, rendering them better adapted to hot, arid
environments and those lacking in carbon dioxide.
The C3 grasses are referred to as "cool-season" grasses, while the C4
plants are considered "warm-season" grasses.:18–19
Annual cool-season - wheat, rye, annual bluegrass (annual meadowgrass,
Poa annua), and oat
Perennial cool-season - orchardgrass (cocksfoot, Dactylis glomerata),
Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass
Annual warm-season - maize, sudangrass, and pearl millet
Perennial warm-season - big bluestem, Indiangrass,
The grass family is one of the most widely distributed and abundant
groups of plants on Earth. Grasses are found on every
Antarctica with the presence of Antarctic
hair grass on the Antarctic Peninsula.
A kangaroo eating grass
Wind-blown grass in the
Valles Caldera in New Mexico
Grasses are the dominant vegetation in many habitats, including
grassland, salt-marsh, reedswamp and steppes. They also occur as a
smaller part of the vegetation in almost every other terrestrial
habitat. Grass-dominated biomes are called
grasslands. If only large, contiguous areas of grasslands are counted,
these biomes cover 31% of the planet's land. Grasslands include
pampas, steppes, and prairies. Grasses provide food to many
grazing mammals—such as livestock, deer, and elephants—as well as
to many species of butterflies and moths. Many types
of animals eat grass as their main source of food, and are called
graminivores – these include cattle, sheep, horses, rabbits and many
invertebrates, such as grasshoppers and the caterpillars of many brown
butterflies. Grasses are also eaten by omnivorous or even occasionally
by primarily carnivorous animals.
Grasses are unusual in that the meristem is located near the bottom of
the plant; hence, they can quickly recover from cropping at the
top. The evolution of large grazing animals in the Cenozoic
contributed to the spread of grasses. Without large grazers,
fire-cleared areas are quickly colonized by grasses, and with enough
rain, tree seedlings. Trees eventually outcompete most grasses.
Trampling grazers kill seedling trees but not grasses.:137
There are about 12,000 grass species in about 771 genera that are
classified into 12 subfamilies. See the full list of Poaceae
Setaria verticillata from Panicoideae
Tragus roxburghii from Chloridoideae
Anomochlooideae Pilg. ex Potztal, a small lineage of broad-leaved
grasses that includes two genera (Anomochloa, Streptochaeta)
Pharoideae L.G.Clark & Judz., a small lineage of grasses of three
genera, including Pharus and Leptaspis
Puelioideae L.G.Clark, M.Kobay., S.Mathews, Spangler &
E.A.Kellogg, a small lineage of the African genus Puelia
Pooideae, including wheat, barley, oats, brome-grass (Bromus),
reed-grasses (Calamagrostis) and many lawn and pasture grasses
Bambusoideae, including bamboo
Ehrhartoideae, including rice and wild rice
Aristidoideae, including Aristida
Arundinoideae, including giant reed and common reed
Chloridoideae, including the lovegrasses (Eragrostis, about 350
species, including teff), dropseeds (Sporobolus, some 160 species),
finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.), and the muhly grasses
(Muhlenbergia, about 175 species)
Panicoideae, including panic grass, maize, sorghum, sugarcane, most
millets, fonio, and bluestem grasses
Danthonioideae, including pampas grass
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Grasses are, in human terms, perhaps the most economically important
plant family. Their economic importance stems from several areas,
including food production, industry, and lawns. They have been grown
as food for domesticated animals for up to 6,000 years and the grains
of grasses such as wheat, rice, maize (corn) and barley have been the
most important human food crops. Grasses are also used in the
manufacture of thatch, paper, fuel, clothing, insulation, timber for
fencing, furniture, scaffolding and construction materials, floor
matting, sports turf and baskets.
Grazing cattle on a pasture near
Hradec nad Moravicí
Hradec nad Moravicí in Czech
Agricultural grasses grown for their edible seeds are called cereals
or grains (although the latter term, agriculturally, refers to both
cereals and legumes). Of all crops grown, 70% are grasses. Three
cereals—rice, wheat, and maize (corn)—provide more than half of
all calories consumed by humans. Cereals constitute the major
source of carbohydrates for humans and perhaps the major source of
protein, including rice (in southern and eastern Asia), maize (in
Central and South America), and wheat and barley (in Europe, northern
Asia and the Americas).
Sugarcane is the major source of sugar production. Additional food
uses of sugarcane include sprouted grain, shoots, and rhizomes, and in
drink they include sugarcane juice and plant milk, as well as rum,
beer, whisky, and vodka.
Lemongrass is a grass used as a culinary herb for its citrus-like
flavor and scent.
Many species of grass are grown as pasture for foraging or as fodder
for prescribed livestock feeds, particularly in the case of cattle,
horses, and sheep. Such grasses may be cut and stored for later
feeding, especially for the winter, in the form of bales of hay or
straw, or in silos as silage.
Straw (and sometimes hay) may also be
used as bedding for animals.
Grasses are used as raw material for a multitude of purposes,
including construction and in the composition of building materials
such as cob, for insulation, in the manufacture of paper and board
such as Oriented structural straw board. Grass fiber can be used for
making paper, and for biofuel production.Bamboo
scaffolding is able to withstand typhoon-force winds that would break
steel scaffolding. Larger bamboos and
Arundo donax have stout
culms that can be used in a manner similar to timber, Arundo is used
to make reeds for woodwind instruments, and bamboo is used for
innumerable implements.
Phragmites australis (common reed) is important for thatching and
grass roots stabilize the sod of sod houses. Reeds
are used in water treatment systems, in wetland conservation and land
reclamation in Afro-Eurasia.
Marram grass (Ammophila
Lawn and ornamental use
Main article: Lawn
A lawn in front of a building
Grasses are the primary plant used in lawns, which themselves derive
from grazed grasslands in Europe. They also provide
an important means of erosion control (e.g., along roadsides),
especially on sloping land. Grass lawns are an
important covering of playing surfaces in many sports, including
football (soccer), American football, tennis, golf, cricket, softball
Ornamental grasses, such as perennial bunch grasses, are used in many
styles of garden design for their foliage, inflorescences, seed heads.
They are often used in natural landscaping, xeriscaping and slope
stabilization in contemporary landscaping, wildlife gardening, and
native plant gardening.
Turf management and Sand-based athletic fields
Forms of grass are used to cover baseball fields, like this one in
Citi Field, home of the Mets.
Grass playing fields, courses and pitches are the traditional playing
surfaces for many sports, including American football, association
football, baseball, cricket, golf, and rugby. Grass surfaces are also
sometimes used for horse racing and tennis. Type of maintenance and
species of grass used may be important factors for some sports, less
critical for others. In some sports facilities, including indoor domes
and other places where maintenance of a grass field would be
difficult, grass may be replaced with artificial turf, a synthetic
grass-like substitute.
The gray area is the cricket pitch currently in use. Parallel to it
are other pitches in various states of preparation which could be used
in other matches.
Cricket pitch § Preparation and maintenance of the
In cricket, the pitch is the strip of carefully mowed and rolled grass
where the bowler bowls. In the days leading up to the match it is
repeatedly mowed and rolled to produce a very hard, flat surface for
the ball to bounce off.
Grass on golf courses is kept in three distinct conditions: that of
the rough, the fairway, and the putting green. Grass on the fairway is
mown short and even, allowing the player to strike the ball cleanly.
Playing from the rough is a disadvantage because the long grass may
affect the flight of the ball. Grass on the putting green is the
shortest and most even, ideally allowing the ball to roll smoothly
over the surface. An entire industry revolves around the development
and marketing of grass varieties for golf courses.
Main article: Grass court
In tennis, grass is grown on very hard-packed soil, and the bounce of
a tennis ball may vary depending on the grass's health, how recently
it has been mowed, and the wear and tear of recent play.[citation
needed] The surface is softer than hard courts and clay (other tennis
surfaces), so the ball bounces lower, and players must reach the ball
faster resulting in a different style of play which may suit some
players more than others. Among the world's most
prestigious court for grass tennis is Centre Court at Wimbledon,
London which hosts the final of the annual
Wimbledon Championships in
England, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
Economically important grasses
Leaf and stem crops
St. Augustine grass
Ornamental grasses (Horticultural)
Role in society
Grass-covered house in Iceland
Grasses have long had significance in human society. They have been
cultivated as feed for people and domesticated animals for thousands
of years. The primary ingredient of beer is usually barley or wheat,
both of which have been used for this purpose for over 4,000
In some places, particularly in suburban areas, the maintenance of a
grass lawn is a sign of a homeowner's responsibility to the overall
appearance of their neighborhood. One work credits lawn maintenance
...the desire for upward mobility and its manifestation in the lawn.
As Virginia Jenkins, author of The Lawn, put it quite bluntly, 'Upper
middle-class Americans emulated aristocratic society with their own
small, semi-rural estates.' In general, the lawn was one of the
primary selling points of these new suburban homes, as it shifted
social class designations from the equity and ubiquity of urban homes
connected to the streets with the upper-middle class designation of a
"healthy" green space and the status symbol that is the front
Many US municipalities and homeowners' associations have rules which
require lawns to be maintained to certain specifications, sanctioning
those who allow the grass to grow too long. In communities with
drought problems, watering of lawns may be restricted to certain times
of day or days of the week.
The smell of the freshly cut grass is produced mainly by
Some common aphorisms involve grass. For example:
"The grass is always greener on the other side" suggests an alternate
state of affairs will always seem preferable to one's own.
"Don't let the grass grow under your feet" tells someone to get
"A snake in the grass" means dangers that are hidden.
"When elephants fight, it is the grass which suffers" tells of
bystanders caught in the crossfire.
A folk myth about grass is that it refuses to grow where any violent
death has occurred.
In popular culture
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In John Christopher's
The Death of Grass
The Death of Grass (1956, published in the
United States as No Blade of Grass), a plague that kills off all forms
of grass threatens the survival of the human species.
In Ward Moore's 1947 novel Greener Than You Think, the world is slowly
taken over by unstoppable Bermuda Grass.
Alice Munro's story "Save the Reaper" (1998) contains an important
allusion to the idiomatic saying, "To hear the grass grow"; the aging
protagonist remembers her grandfather's telling her when she was young
that "at night you could hear the corn growing" in the region where
the story is set. The protagonist hears the grass grow in ways
that are central to the story's significance on the topic of
retelling, or rather, in an act of self-censorship, of leaving untold
certain experiences of the recent past.
Poa trivialis showing the ligules
Bamboo stem and leaves, nodes are evident
Chasmanthium latifolium spikelet
Wheat spike and spikelet
Spikelet opened to show caryopsis
Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)
Barley mature spikes (Hordeum vulgare)
Illustration depicting both staminate and pistillate flowers of maize
A grass flower head (meadow foxtail) showing the plain-coloured
flowers with large anthers.
Anthers detached from a meadow foxtail flower
Setaria verticillata, bristly foxtail
Setaria verticillata, bristly foxtail
Oryza sativa, Kerala, India
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Poaceae.
Wikispecies has information related to Poaceae
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Grass.
The dictionary definition of grass at Wiktionary
Need a Definition of Grass?
Vegetative Key to Grasses
Poaceae at The
Gramineae at The Families of Flowering Plants (DELTA)
Poaceae at the Encyclopedia of Life
Poaceae at the Angiosperm Phylogeny Website
Poaceae Classification from the online Catalogue of New World Grasses
Poaceae at the online Flora of China
Poaceae at the online Guide to the Flora of Mongolia
Poaceae at the online Flora of Taiwan
Poaceae at the online Flora of Pakistan
Poaceae at the online Flora of Zimbabwe
Poaceae at the online Flora of Western Australia
Grasses of Australia (AusGrass2) - http://ausgrass2.myspecies.info/
Gramineae at the online Flora of New Zealand
NZ Grass Key An Interactive Key to New Zealand Grasses at Landcare
The Grass Genera of the World at DELTA intkey
GrassBase - The Online World Grass Flora at the Royal Botanic Gardens
GrassWorld - http://grassworld.myspecies.info/
Cereals and pseudocereals
Neolithic founder crops
History of agriculture
Tell Abu Hureyra
Crop wild relative
Subfamilies and tribes of the grasses (Poaceae)
see also: List of