Grassland are huge expanses of land with multitudes of grasses, herbs and flowers. The nature of plants in a certain grassland is determined by the local growing conditions and latitude of the grasslands. Usually the average precipitation in any grassland supports just grasses and occasionally a few trees, since the soil in the majority of grassland does not favor the growth of trees. The two main types of grasslands consist of tall-grass, which are humid and wet, or short-grass, which are dry and hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. Grasslands experience extreme temperature ranges, with summer temperatures of 70 degrees F and winter temperature as low as -40 degrees F.
The most dominant plant variety of a grassland is grass. Grasses are well suited to growing in dry, hot areas with their long, narrow foliage, which looses less moisture. The root systems of grasses are deep and extensive and make it possible for them to survive in situations of extreme drought. On the average, about 50 percent of all plants found in grasslands are grasses. A majority of these grasses belong to the Poaceae family with linear, narrow leaves. These grasses have inconspicuous flowers and grow from creeping rhizomes or roots. Many of these grasses have silica distributed through their tissues, which adds to their resilience and hardiness in order to survive in the adverse weather of grasslands.
While 50 percent of grassland plants consist of grasses, most of the remaining 50 percent are forbs. Forb is a short form for Euphorbiaceae, a plant family that includes common native grassland plants like showy spurge (Euphorbia corollata). The forbs in grasslands have an upright growth habit. These plants grow close together and provide mutual structural support to their tall, narrow forms. Forbs are also commonly referred to as grassland wildflowers and include grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), milkweed (Asclepsias tuberose) and lupines (Lupinus perennis).
Milkweeds and plants that resemble milkweed like dogbane are among the important plants of grasslands. The plants are named for their dense, latex sap, which comes out readily when foliage or stems are bruised or broken. Insects frequently try to eat the sap, which hardens in the air and gums up the insects’ mouth. The insects who can consume the sap without being bothered by it are common in the grasslands. These include the milkweed bug, the monarch butterfly and the red milkweed beetle.
- Photo Credit Grasslands of the bush image by Joey Caston from Fotolia.com
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