Kentucky Plant Life - Grasses and Ferns
Grasses is the common name for a large group of plants that are generally the most valuable to human and animal life as food sources throughout the world. All the cereal crops grown for consumption are grasses, including barley, corn, rice and wheat.
Grasses are the number one food source for wild and domestic grazing animals, whether feeding directly from pastures and natural grasslands, or eating the hay and silage farmers cultivate.
Perennial grasses are also the primary material used for lawns. In many parts of the U.S., Kentucky bluegrass and different types of fescue are utilized. (Kentucky bluegrass is NOT a native Kentucky plant.)
Most flowers of the grasses are pollinated by the wind and are simple structures that are sometimes produced in large clusters, as in corn for example. The tassels are made up of individual male flowers and the young ears on the corn stalks are clusters of female flowers.
Grasses occur naturally from Antarctica to above the Arctic Circle.
Currently, there remains two major grassland areas in Kentucky. One is the hill prairies of central Kentucky and the other is the Big Barrens in west Kentucky. Grasses common in these regions include the big bluestem grass, gama grass, little bluestem grass, (pictured below), and prairie cord grass.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. EPA
The little bluestem is a native North American prairie grass and dominates the two major grassland regions of Kentucky. This hardy perennial grass grow in clumps up to 3 feet (1 meter) tall.
Ferns are believed to be among the Earth's oldest plants and vary in size from a few inches high to the 80 feet tall tree ferns. Most species, however, do not have trunks, but grow instead from simple underground stems, slowing spreading into large clumps of fronds.
The lady fern, pictured at left, a native Kentucky plant, is one of about 180 species of lady ferns that range throughout most of the world.