The Life Of Grasses

When grasses are not cut back, mowed or untouched, they turn out to be completely unusual plants - something different from the familiar grasses that comprise a beautiful lawn. In fact, most ornamental grasses can be grown with ease and they also bloom quickly provided they are free from regular grazing or mowing.

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Just one or two seasons are enough for the majority of the ornamental grasses to grow to their full size. A mature or full grown grass may denote a plant that grows up to a height of about 12 inches, for instance, the large blue hairgrass (botanical name Koeleria glauca); or those that grow up to a height of about 12 feet - like the giant Chinese silver grass (botanical name Miscanthus giganteus). Even the pampas grass grows so rapidly that you can even hear this species growing on any hot summer day. Similarly, the sugarcane (botanical name Saccharum officinarum) grows at such a rapid pace that it practically surpasses the growth rate of majority of the plants. Such rapid growth of sugarcane is attributed to the plant's hastened photosynthetic competencies. In effect, several varieties of grasses also possess this aptitude. Provided they are grown in perfect conditions, these grasses are very quick to take their place in the garden. Normally, this variety of grasses starts producing roots and shoots as well as leaves from a seedling or a little plantlet.

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Leaf and stem

A variety of grass leaves, including folded, delicate and stiff, wavy, flat and broad, and others that may be in between, make our garden attractive with their quality and movements. In fact, all these different forms of grasses also have a useful aspect. They have actually developed in reaction to the type of weather as well as situations. For example, grass leaves that have a turned over or turned under shape retard the rate of water evaporation and are generally found on grass varieties growing in the parched regions. On the other hand, grass leaves having razor-sharp edges and viciously pointed tips assist in shielding the plants from rummaging animals.

Ornamental grasses have foliages that vary greatly in different tones of green, ranging from olive to deep forest green as well as in different hues yellow, red, purple, blue and brown. The leaves of a number of ornamental grass species are supple and fluffy to touch, while there are many others that have glossy or folded leaves. In addition, some leaves of grasses are so sharp-edged that they can even cut the skin as razors do. Besides, grasses having leaves that are either dotted or banded with white or yellow hues cause a sensation of light and motion.

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It may be noted that the grass stem, also known as culm, produces its leaves, blossoms as well as seeds. The culms also differ and range from being slender and supple to timbered and firm. The leaves emerge on the culms, while the flowers appear at the terminals or top of them.

The arrangement of the leaves as well as the culms also varies from one type of grass to another. In the instance of the clumped and mounded forms of ornamental grass, the culms are concealed by the foliage at the bottom of the grass and they are only noticeable when the flower stalks start emerging. On the other hand, the culms or stems of the grass varieties that have an erect growth are frequently detectable and remain as one of the conspicuous parts of the plant all through their growing season. Generally, the culms of grasses have the same color as their foliage. However, sometimes these stems may even have hues that stand out. For instance, the canes of 'Pele's Smoke' sugarcane species (botanical name Saccharum officinarum 'Pele's Smoke') have a shining burgundy red color, while the leaves are semi-transparent with a purple hue.

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Several varieties of sedges as well as rushes seen to be just like the true grass species, while others possess an entirely dissimilar leaf and culm structures. For instance, a number of species of the sedge family (such as Cyperaceae) possess tube-shaped or cylindrical stems having significantly condensed leaves. The Egyptian papyrus (botanical name Cyperus papyrus) possesses exposed stems that are about six to nine feet in height having a large umbrella-shaped cluster of floppy leaves, each of which measure about two feet in width. Even the culms of rushes, which belong to the Juncaceae family, are nearly tube-shaped all the times, while they bear very few or no leaves at all. However, the leaves as well as the flowering stems of woodrushes (botanical name Luzula spp.) are similar to those of ornamental grasses and appear more akin to those of true grasses or sedges.

Flowers and seed heads

Although majority of the people believe that the grasses produce flowers, in effect, they are inflorescence or cluster of diminutive flowers. Every minuscule flower is separately supported by a formation known as spikelet, which is concealed till the plant comes into blossom. There are three fundamental appearances of the inflorescences borne by ornamental grasses - spike, raceme or panicle. The spike is actually the most uncomplicated formation. In this case, every tiny individual flower is directly joined with the principal stem and does not have any branch. In the instance of raceme, the spikelets are supported on the branches that are straight away joined with the central stem. On the other hand, the panicle is the most complicated formation wherein the spikelets are supported by the branches or stalks that are joined with the central stem. A panicle may possibly comprise flowers positioned in racemes on its boughs. The flowers appearing on a spike, raceme or panicle may well be assembled in a loose manner, providing an open and spacious experience. Alternately, they may also be crowded or also one-sided.

When they emerge, the spikelets generally have one color and change to another when they are full grown. The spikelets may be found in red, green, pink, bronze and silver hues in inflorescences that are just coming out. When these spikelets are full grown, their color changes to gray, tan, brown and even gold. A number of spikelets even look hairy or coarse, on account of a prominent awn akin to a needle that develops from the spikelet. The feather grass (botanical name Stipa spp.) has a silken awn which detains light and swings even in the most gently blowing wind.

Prior to seeding, the flowers of the ornamental grasses frequently assume a totally different shape as well as hue. Maiden grass (botanical name Miscanthus spp.) has silken curls which are white, red or purple when they appear and turn feathery and enlarge like cotton candy, developing into plumes that are akin to brownish whisks or beige tan. More often than not, the seeds of grasses are scattered by the wind from the plants and often fall on the ground. Seeds that are weightless may also drift in the wind. Even when the seeds of the grasses have been dispersed, by and large the flower heads of the plants continue to be straight till they are struck by the wind, rain and/ or snow and fell on the ground. Generally, such older flower spikes continue to be attractive in the garden all through the winter months. Most of the ornamental grasses bear flowers during the period between May and July. Nevertheless, a number of ornamental grasses also bloom for a longer period till November, while there are others that only bear flowers during the winter.

Fall, winter, and spring again

The grasses actually start undergoing changes with the fall impending and the days becoming shorter. During this time of the year, the warm season ornamental grasses take on the color they have during autumn. By the time fall is about to end, the grasses have a faded hues in compliance with the soft shades of winter. The living buds, which form the subsequent season's growth, remain inactive at the base of the plant, all set to come out with the onset of the spring. On the other hand, ornamental grasses belonging to the category of cool season start growing once more during fall, much after their flowering season is over.

New shoots start emerging from the desiccated remains of the previous year's growth during the later part of winter or spring, conditional on the type of grass. When we grow ornamental grasses in our garden we generally trim them with a view to maintain the tidiness and attractiveness of the plants. However, grasses in the wild continue growing from the previous year's growth till they have grown through the older growth, which has started to rot by then. As the new growth comes out, the growth cycle of the grasses completes a full circle and a new season has started.

Ornamental grasses
The families of grasses
How grasses grow
Growing ornamental grasses
Growing grasses in containers
Propagating ornamental grasses
Maintaining ornamental grasses
Grasses' pests and diseases


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