Field guide to COMMON GRASSES
1 CRESTED DOG’S TAIL Cynosaurus cristatus
This hardy grass has a flattened, spiked inflorescence, the florets of which dangle their stamens towards one side. Its flower stems, which were formally used to make straw hats, become tough and unpalatable so persist late into the year on grazing land.
2 COCK’S-FOOT Dactylis glomerata
A robust, tussocky grass with flattened vegetative shoots. Its one-sided, dense spikelets are clustered on three or four branches, likening its outline to a chicken’s foot. An important contributor to the hay crop, cock’s foot also occurs in many other grassy habitats.
3 COMMON BENT Agrostis tenuis
Beginning to flower in late June, this fine-leaved grass competes best in drier parts of meadows, on poorer acid soil. It is also known as brown top, because its airy, open flower panicles resemble a brownishpurple haze. It’s widely cultivated for high quality lawns.
4 MEADOW FOXTAIL Alopecurus pratensis
This begins growth early in spring and its distinctive cylindrical inflorescences bloom in mid-May, much earlier than the similar Timothy grass. It is at its most impressive in moist, fertile soils of water meadows, where its flowering stems may reach one metre tall.
5 QUAKING GRASS Briza media
Heart-shaped spikelets dangle from slender stems and tremble in the slightest breeze, a characteristic that is reflected in quaking grass’s local names like cow quakes, doddering dillies, shivering and totter grass. It favours dry, calcareous grassland and is soon lost when this is ‘improved’ with added fertiliser.
6 SWEET VERNAL GRASS Anthoxanthum odoratum
One of the earliest grasses to flower, often in April, sweet vernal grass thrives in acid soils in upland meadows. It contains high levels of coumarin, which is responsible for the intense new-mown hay fragrance of a freshly mown meadow. Its inflorescences ripen to a golden-yellow in summer.
7 YORKSHIRE FOG Holcus lanatus
This major component of hay meadows has a prolific seed output that rapidly colonises bare soil patches. The softly, hairy inflorescences have a delicate red tinge, so dense populations of this grass look like a pink mist on a summer evening.