Nature Bulletin No. 156 May 22, 1948
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
The grasses have made possible the civilization of mankind. Without
them man would be just another animal. The African weld, the steppes
of Russia, the pampas of South America and, in North America, the
short-grass prairies of the Great Plains and the tall-grass prairies of
the Middle West, supported great roving herds of four-footed grazing
beasts which supplied primitive man with food. Some of these he
domesticated and improved by careful selection and breeding so that
today such -- grasslands supply the world with beef and mutton.
More than 5000 years ago, man also began to domesticate and
improve certain grasses, and the first centers of civilization grew up
around the culture of rice, wheat, and maize or corn -- all of them
grasses. The wild and cultivated grasses, by furnishing man with his
cereal foods and with feed for his livestock which provide meat, milk
and clothing, have enabled him to become "civilized". By binding the
soil and protecting it from wind and water erosion, the grasses have
stood as a buffer between civilization and the deserts.
There are at least 7000 species of grasses distributed over every
continent, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, with 1500 species in the
United States. They may be grouped into eight tribes: the Maize Tribe,
the Oats Tribe, the Rice Tribe, the Barley Tribe which includes wheat,
the Sugar Cane Tribe, the lawn and forage grasses, and the Bamboo
Tribe, some of which grow to be 100 feet tall.
Many of them are low plants with leaves growing constantly from the
base, and are unique because they may be continually grazed or
mowed without injury. Some have underground stems which extend
horizontally and give off new tufts of grass. Some have leaves that roll
up and prevent evaporation during periods of drought and hot winds.
All have jointed round stems with leaves in two opposite rows growing
from the joints. And all of them have flowers: flowers with stamens
and pistils but no petals or sepals -- some self-pollinated, others wind-
pollinated -- in many species so tiny they are unnoticed
"All flesh is grass" (Isaiah 40:6).
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012