Monday, 5 August 2013

Taxon of the Day: Poaceae

Bromus hordeaceus hordeaceus

Today's Taxon of the Day has been produced by Dr M, he writes:

Poaceae is a wonderful and important vascular plant family, the 5th-largest in the world, after Orchidaceae, Asteraceae, Fabaceae and Rubiaceae. Catalogue of Life lists 740 genera and 11,367 species. Poaceae is important ecologically, economically and aesthetically:

Ecologically natural and semi-natural grasslands cover 20% of the Earth but Poaceae occur in many other habitats too like forests, freshwater and saline wetlands and tundra. Fascinating ecological relationships have evolved including the co-evolution between grasses and large grazing animals and between grasses and wildfire.

Economically the early domestication of Poaceous cereal crops e.g. maize, wheat, barley, millet, and rice laid the foundations for human societies around the world. Even today Poaceae is the most economically important plant family, providing forage, building materials, fuel as well as staple food crops.

Aesthetically grasses must count amongst the most evocative and beautiful plants on Earth. We only have to think of the mysterious swirling Stipa grasses on the Steppes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the herds of Antelope, Wildebeest, Buffalo and Zebra migrating majestically across the Savannas of East Africa, and even fields of cultivated wheat and rice have their own Poaceous magic. Not only a Taxon of the day but a taxon for all time!

Further reading and sources:

RBG Kew - GrassBase
Watson & Dallwitz - Grass Genera of the World
Clayton & Renvoize - Genera Graminum

CoL Annual Checklist: Poaceae
CoL contributor:  World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
Image copyright: Dr M

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