Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Grasses
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).

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