Kentucky Plant Life - Grasses and Ferns

Native Grasses

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.

Prairie Dropseed, a native Kentucky grass.
Copyright K.R. Robertson. Used with permission.
The prairie dropseed is a warm-season grass with fine foliage that creates a supple dance-like movement when blowing in the wind. The species pictured above is native to the central areas of North America, including Kentucky.

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.

Little Bluestem, a common native Kentucky 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

A common member of the species of lady ferns
GNU Licensed Photo

All ferns are perennials in the appropriate habitat and most thrive best in moist soil and shady areas. Ferns are found across the planet with the number of species estimated to be over 10,000.

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.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON A VARIETY OF PLANTS:

KSNPC Rare Plants Database
Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission provides a searchable database where you can search by "common name", "scientific name", your "county name" or get a listing for statewide rare plants.

USDA PLANTS DATABASE
You can search by scientific or common name, or do a state search and see a listing of plants in your state. There are over 30,000 images of plants, and a wealth of knowledge available on this site.

Plant Facts is a huge interactive database with photos and videos produced and maintained by The Ohio State University. Their web site says they have: "merged several digital collections developed at Ohio State University to become an international knowledge bank and multimedia learning center."

Plants - Puzzles and Games

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