When is a grass not a grass, when it is a rush or a sedge? We look at ‘grasses ‘as a general species they have erect narrow green blades with sheaths and later carry a brownish flower and botanically are all collectively known as graminoids (plants with grass-like appearance). In fact, there are four types of ‘grasses’, grasses, rushes and sedges & wood sedges which all survive in various habitats. They are all evergreen. Grasses generally prefer dry, sunny conditions whereas most rushes, sedges and reeds prefer moist shady conditions. So the following applies when trying to identify the difference between them:
Take a look at the stems because each has a very different appearance. If the stem is hollow it is likely a grass. If the stem is solid, peel the leaves back if the plant has leaves, and roll the stem between your fingers. If it rolls easily between your fingers, it’s a round stem and is most likely a rush. If it does not roll easily, it’s an angular stem, which is characteristic of sedges.
Grasses are the usual constituent of a lawn although you may occasionally find field woodrush there which flowers early from March and has very pretty dark chocolate clustered flowers. Our lawns provide a home for lots of different insects that are eaten by birds and other wildlife. Lawns can also provide seed for birds from its flowers. Any area of short grass will act as a feeding area for birds. Longer grass provides shelter and egg-laying opportunities for the insects on which birds and other wildlife feed including Butterflies and Moths. You can improve your lawn for birds and wildlife by simply avoiding the use of weed killers and artificial fertilisers. The rushes and sedges will colonise damper areas of your garden around ponds and in hollows and can provide a good habitat for insects and amphibians.
So when you are not quite sure if it is a grass, rush or sedge take a look at this mantra as a general identification guide sedges have edges, rushes are round and grasses have knees.
Many of the crops we rely on for food are grasses: Wheat, Oats, Barley, Triticale and Rye. Locally, you will likely see Wheat, Oats and Barley, but it is hard to distinguish between them until the seed heads appear in the fields. June brings the longest days of the year, so plants are growing quickly. For farmers, this is the period where crops are growing rapidly and developing seed heads. Wheat is a darker green colour until it ripens to gold, and generally has stiff upright seed head which is tightly packed with seeds. Barley is a paler green, and its seed heads have longer awns (whiskers) which can turn down or bend as the ears ripen to gold. Fields of barley appear softer, and in a breeze the whole crop waves. Recently some farmers grow bearded wheat, which is a wheat which has longer awns, so can easily be confused with Barley. Oats are generally taller and the seed head quite different. The stems bear lots of separate seeds which dangle more freely.
June is also the month when there is a national campaign to encourage farmers to open their doors to visitors for Open Farm Sunday. This was originally due to take place on June 13th, but has now been deferred to June 27th, to avoid the lockdown restrictions. East Hall Farm will be offering walking farm tours on both Sundays. On the 13th, you might team it up with a visit to the Gardens at the Bury and tea and cake. On the 27th, you can return to East Hall Farm, or have the choice of visiting farms cross the country. See https://farmsunday.org/
Julie Wise and Frances Harris