Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Notes from the Sticks: Super grass


IF you are one of the estimated 10million hay fever sufferers in Britain, you might want to look away now. One of the main causes of this condition is grass pollen, and the plants are in full bloom (just in time to coincide with school exams).

I have noticed when walking that there is a great variety in the shape of the flower heads and I have been wanting to do a column about grasses for a while, but the problem is getting pictures – if you take a photograph of a patch of grass it inevitably looks like a patch of grass. Last week I hit on a better idea and armed myself with a carrier bag and scissors to snip off the flowering heads (luckily I don’t have hay fever) and take them home to photograph.

The first two pictures are the result of a one-mile walk from the next village on Thursday morning.  

This is the result of a half-mile walk in the opposite direction on Thursday afternoon.

There is a certain amount of duplication because the heads can look quite different according to the age of the flower and how much light it gets, and obviously the leaves don’t help much in identification, plus I am very ignorant about grasses. However I think of the 38 stalks in these pictures there must be getting on for 30 varieties. Each one is a miniature treasure, as this close-up of cocksfoot grass (Dactylis glomerata) shows:

The tiny grains of pollen contain proteins that can irritate and inflame the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses. They tend to be spherical or bean-shaped. I couldn’t find a stock picture of a grass pollen grain but here are some daisy grains much magnified and you can see what nasty little blighters they are.

There are about 160 species of grass in Britain, and 10,000 worldwide, making them one of the most numerous plant families. Their success is due to the fact that unlike most plants, they grow from the base. If damaged, perhaps by a grazing animal (a huge variety feed on grass, from elephants and cows to grasshoppers and caterpillars) they usually continue to grow. The tallest in the world is the dragon bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus) which often exceeds 100ft. The tallest so far measured was 138ft in India.


Sheep of the Week

THIS is the Dutch Spotted sheep, which I had never heard of, let alone seen, but I would love to.

It was first recorded in the west of the Netherlands around 1800. The area was reclaimed from swamp by a system of embankments and farmers needed a hardy breed of sheep to maintain the grass and eat any saplings. The sheep had to be able to walk long distances owing to the length of the embankments and also to withstand the acidity of the peat bogs. They selected the traditional Dutch Spotted sheep for the task and ultimately the breed played an important role in transforming the peat bogs into sod strong enough to carry cows.  

They are fairly new to the UK but are gaining in popularity thanks to their appearance and easy-going temperament, making them suitable for both large farms and smallholders.

Here is a video:

You can read more, and see some great pictures, at the Dutch Spotted Sheep Society website.


 . . . but is giving the spelling competition a miss.


HERE are two small wild flowers I found close together which are easy to confuse unless you look at the leaves.

This is bugle (Ajuga reptans), which has smooth, shiny, almost metallic leaves.

This is ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)which has almost furry leaves. (It is nothing to do with ivy, but is a member of the mint family.)


FINALLY, don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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