Credits: Wild grasses - Philip Precey

Grasses are probably the most important group of plants for people. They feed, directly or indirectly, most of the world’s population. Rice, barley, wheat and oats are all members of the grass plant family and are our most important crop plants. Throughout the world we graze our livestock - sheep, goats and cattle - on grasslands, so without grass species we wouldn’t be here!

Natural grasslands in the UK are very rare as most areas have been changed by farming. Our natural grasslands: meadows, grass heaths, coastal and upland grasslands are our richest habitats for wildflowers. Long grasses are also ideal habitat for many small mammals which are food for birds of prey and bigger predators like stoats and weasels. So next time you walk on a lawn remember how members of this family of plants have changed our world!


Did you know?

England has lost more than 95% of its hay meadows since 1945 and many wildflowers and butterflies which depended on this grassland habitat have become rare.

Five grasses to look out for

Wall Barley: A common grass found on waste land. You may already know this species; children use the flower heads for darts which fly through the air and stick into clothes.

Marram grass: Tussocks of spiky grass growing out of the sand and covering sand dunes. Its underground stems creep though the sand, helping bind the dunes together, trapping blown sand and building the dune system higher.

Quaking grass: A distinctive grass, nearly leafless, but with very attractive flower heads that shake in the wind. Flower arrangers use it and it is sometimes grown in gardens. In the wild it grows on chalky grasslands.

Cocksfoot: A common grass in meadows and on roadsides and waste ground. This is a species which was once used for hay making and the distinctive spiky branched flower head gives the plant its name resembling a cock’s foot.

Common reed: Common in marshes, and the edges of lakes and slow flowing rivers. This species is still harvested in winter in East Anglia to provide reeds used for thatching houses.