Backwell Environment Trust

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Grass Identification Course - July 2016


Poaceae is a large family of monocotyledonous flowering plants to which most of us don’t give more than a passing glance. We might notice when the lawn needs trimming, or comment on the sweet smell of new mown hay but poaceae, or grasses, tend not to catch one’s eye like more brightly coloured ‘wild flowers’.

When Tony Smith from the Bristol Naturalists' Society visited the NEWT reserve at Moorend Spout to help with some plant surveying in June, he realised that several of us were struggling with identifying grasses and kindly offered to run a day course. This would be the first joint venture for the North Somerset Nature Net (NSNN), with attendees from YACWAG, NEWT and BET.   BET’s cabin would be the classroom, and on 11th July, after waving off the BET Monday morning work party, eight of us settled down for some serious study.

Grass Course 480

As the essential parts of grasses are so small and have a specialist vocabulary, Tony had brought along his ‘visual aids’ - large scale paper models showing the structure of grasses – and a training booklet which would enable us to key out the different families, and eventually to identify the grass in question.   Tony patiently guided us as, armed with hand lenses, we poured over samples and compared their ligules, lemmas, glumes and spikelets, and were introduced to other more prosaic technical terms such as ‘pink stripy pyjamas’. After lunch we ventured into the meadow for the challenge of some field work. Tony assured us that by following his training booklet, and with a little more practice we could all become proficient. To this end, he offered a follow-up day for more field work from which two of us were able to benefit.

I shall certainly look at grasses differently in future and recognise that in a traditional meadow there are so many more species than the ubiquitous rye grass that so predominates in fields scalped for silage. The vernacular grass names are lovely – crested dog’s-tail, sweet vernal grass, timothy, yorkshire fog, cock’s foot, foxtail, to name but a few – though I do struggle with the Latin ones. (I know I should try harder with them as they do help to group families of grasses).

It was a very useful day and we are most grateful to Tony Smith for giving so generously of his time.

Carrie Riches


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