Plants that are pollinated by the wind lack the striking colours and strong scents of insect-pollinated plants. Colour and scent attract insects. In contrast, the flowers of grasses are dull because they only require wind to scatter their pollen.
One very common grass seen now on roadside verges and hay meadows is Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) or Garbhfhéar in Irish. (1) This coarse grass is very nutritious and good for feeding cattle. However, it is also valuable for biodiversity because four species of butterfly rely on it as a larval food plant. These four brown butterflies lay eggs on this plant: Meadow brown, Speckled wood, Wall brown and Ringlet. (2)
It can grow to 120 centimetres in height with flower-heads that are supposed to look like birds’ feet. The spikelets which contain two to five flowers can be green or tinged with purple. The long, narrow leaves are rough and have ridges going down the middle.
Another valuable native fodder grass commonly seen now on road verges and in hay meadows is Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) or Fiteog léana in Irish. (3) It grows to between 40 and 100 centimetres in height and produces a cylindrical, silky, greenish spike at the top of the stem. Each spikelet contains only one flower. The anthers which hold the pollen vary in colour from yellow to purple.
Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) or Seagalach bhuan is a grass that is abundant in fields, lawns, meadows, roadside verges and waste places. (4) It is also highly nutritious for feeding livestock. It produces a flower spike which can be as long as 25cm.