Saturday, November 3, 2012

Just like lanterns

Quaking grass
The flowers of the large quaking grasses look like delicate lanterns hanging at the end of a thin arching wire. 

They are so light that the gentlest of breezes is enough to start them nodding. 

Waiting for the flower-heads to stop bobbing for long enough to take pictures is a game of patience.

The quaking grass genus consists of about twelve species some of which are widely cultivated. 

Two species have been recorded in the Maltese islands. 

One species is indigenous while the other has become naturalised. 

The indigenous species is known in known in Maltese as beżżulet il-qattusa, cat’s nipple in English. 

It flowering between March and May but the dry flowers can still be found hanging on the plant for several weeks after the end of the flowering season. 

It is a relatively common plant that grows in rocky parts of valleys. 

I have recently seen it at Busket, Wied Dalam and Fiddien. 

It is native to southern Europe and North Africa as well as western Asia. It is a very popular garden plant and is grown as ornament in most of the world as a result of which it has become naturalised in the British Isles, Australia and the Americas including Hawaii.

Quaking grasses belong to the grass family. 

This very large family consists of more than 10,000 species. 

About one hundred are found in the Maltese islands. 

The grasses are the fifth largest family in the plant kingdom. 

They are found in a variety of habitats and are the dominant species in grasslands which themselves cover about 20% of the land surface.

They are extremely important commercially as they provide humans with the most important staple foods particularly grains and cereals.

Lawns and turfs are made of grass species as is bamboo which is used as a building material in large parts of east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

This article was published in The Times on 16.05.2012

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