Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Grasses all day, every day, and grasses ever after, amen!

My life, as well as the lives of billions of other people, are intertwined with grasses...we are touched by them....from the time we wake up in the morning, to the time we sleep at night.

This was what I tried to convey during a talk with Matt Candelas of In Defense of Plants.

In my case, when I wake up in the morning, I (like literally billions of other people around the world) encounter members of the grass family, or derivatives of it, throughout the day.

The first thing I do in the morning is eat a bowl of oatmeal, and oatmeal of course is from the grass Avena sativa

When I eat my bowl of oatmeal, I put  some sugar into the mix of fruits, and around 80% of sugar in the world is derived from a grass, sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum).

I walk out to my car, and I'll see suburban lawns stretching to the horizon, and the turf grass of course is a mix of various grass species. In Florida it would be Stenotaphrum secundatum (St. Augustine grass), Paspalum notatum (Bahia grass) and maybe Cynodon dactylon (Bermuda grass), while in the Northeast you get various mixes of Poa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass), Festuca spp, and Lolium spp.

Such species are what people normally think of when you mention the word "grass" to them. Ornamental grasses also fall into this category of grasses that are used in landscaping.

When I drive my car to work, the ethanol in my gasoline tank is likely as not made from Zea mays. In fact, around 40% of all corn production is used as bioethanol!

During lunch, I might go out and get a burger, and where would that be without the bread that frames the delicious ingredients between them? Bread of course is from a grass that we call wheat,  (Triticum aestivum and its ilk).

Maybe I also eat some snacks for lunch, and if you are brave enough to look at the ingredients of your candy or chips, you'll probably find something called high fructose corn syrup in it. This is a very common ingredient of packaged foods, because it adds to the sweetness of the food, and this is of course derived from a grass that we already mentioned above, Zea mays (corn/maize).

In fact, if you live in the USA, your body is probably mostly derived from that single grass species. Here is a great documentary that explores in some depth the ubiquity of Z. mays in American life.  

Finally, during some part of the day, I'll probably eat rice (Oryza sativa) during either lunch or dinner (and sometimes breakfast too!). Rice is, of course, one of those grasses that have been essential in the creation and and molding of entire civilizations (which I'll look into next time).

And I'm not even including all the times we use bamboo implements and tools!

So no matter how you look at it, the family Poaceae is by far the most influential and important plant family in the world. It's grasses all day, every day, and grasses ever after, amen!

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