In America, we have been more concerned with the aesthetics and perfection of the grounds around our homes since the 18th century than at any other time in history. Grass is the carpet nature provides to soften our steps and our falls. So why do we not plant luscious flowers everywhere, for extra cushioning?
The answer is rather simple. Flowers are too delicate. No other plant has the resilience of grass; resilience to wind, frost, injury, trampling, burning, drowning, chopping, munching, ripping. No other plant has so many competitors for its ability to provide nourishment. Species across the spectrum of animal and insect life either rely on grass as a main source of food or as a back-up source, or as a host for its actual favorite fare or as a building material for shelter and nesting. And we are not the least of these, for we continually invent new ways to use grass. We even drink it. We turn it into juice with our juicers and we turn it into beer. We cut it when it is tall to provide fiber for manufacturing ventures of all sorts, turn it into art, bedding, fuel for our cars and so on.
Lawn Fact 1 - A 50′ x 50′ (2,500-square-feet) patch of grass produces enough oxygen for a family of four.
Lawn Fact 2 – A dense lawn can absorb rainfall four times better than a hay-field and as much as six times better than a wheat field.
When we think of grass, we think of the lush green blades that grow by the thousands around our homes. In reality, there is no single plant called “grass.” That is just a general term, like “bug’ is a general term. It is estimated that there are at least 5,000 different species of grass. Some grow to a few inches while others, such as bamboo, reach several feet. Specific characteristics unite them. The most outstanding is the fact that unlike other plants, grasses grow from the bottom up, sprouting new leaves from the bottom, not the top. And this is grass’ beauty secret; the reason why we can cut it over and over.
Lawn Fact 3 – A 100′ x 100′ lawn (10,000-square-feet) is actually not a very large area, but if it is covered with grass, it is home to six grass plants per square inch or 850 plants per square foot and its overall grass population is 8.5 million plants.
If you live or have lived in a place where you have lawn around your home, how often have you heard a window suddenly slide open upon a summer afternoon to release the voice of an irate parent ordering the children off the grass and into the flower beds? Trampling the grass is acceptable. Trampling the flowers is not. Yet, beauty attributes aside, grass is more valuable than flowers in many respects.
Lawn Fact 4 – Early lawns were trimmed by grazing livestock. Talk about mowing and trampling! In the early days of The White House, under Presidents Washington and Jefferson, sheep kept the lawns trimmed around the presidential home.
Ever since we have cared for the grasses around our homes, buildings and other structures, we have used grass as a landscaping device. It adds a touch of nature while not hiding the view, it leads to pond and lake shores in a sort of perpetual invitation to play Badminton or have a picnic, and when snow melts it ensures there is something natural and pleasing to the eye to look at, rather than mud. Thus just as we believe we are using grass for its convenience, so are we allowing it to reduce pollution, preserve moisture and provide a natural cooling mechanism in our towns and cities.
Lawn Fact 5 – The grass clippings left behind after mowing are made up of 90 % water.
Lawn Fact 6 – Grasses cool the air by a process of transpiration. As much as 50% of the heat that strikes the ground is eliminated by this process when grass is present. In reality, the plant transpires to cool itself, but it cools its surroundings in the process. There can be a difference of 25 degrees between a sidewalk and the adjacent grass. Thus grass is a natural and very cost-effective air conditioning system.
Lawn Fact 7 – It is estimated that homeowners across America spend at least four hours per week mowing and caring for the lawn around their homes. That time does not include gardening activity. It pertains strictly to lawn care.
It is true that grass requires much maintenance. In this modern age, with plastic bottles recycled into playground equipment and even clothes, why would we not at least reduce maintenance cost and time on surfaces that are not directly connected to our homes, like highway medians and road-sides, for instance? Perhaps partially because we need to see real grass. We need to know that nature is right there by our side. Also, engineers routinely use grass as soil retainers. Grasses prevent and slow erosion. An artificial surface simply cannot take care of itself and its surroundings as grass does. For now. I’ll admit that my secret wish is that it remains this way.
Lawn Fact 8 – Grass roots and the soil in which they rest act as a filter when the water flows through; one that has the ability to break down pollutants and thus purify water on its way to underground aquifers. In addition to this, grass helps control air pollution. It does so by trapping dirt and dust particles from the air. It is estimated that as much as 12 million tons of pollutants are filtered by grasses each year.
Of all the plant life on the planet, grass may be the one we trample and abuse the most, inevitably. It is right there under foot, after all. Yet it is most essential to our well-being. Thankfully, it serves its many purposes through time, in spite of trampled battlefields and cattle drives, industrial revolutions, sidewalks, parking lots, baseball games, busy school yards, playgrounds and shopping plazas.
Gold is more valuable than silver, and it is more resilient and pliable. If grass is the golden mane of the earth, then flowers and trees are precious gems.
Lawn Fact 9 – A 35-year-old, 5 1/2-foot woman weighing about 135 pounds can burn 259 calories per hour while pushing the lawn mower. A man of the same height and weight can burn 280.
PS: I invite you to read the very insightful comments made by readers regarding this article. They are quite thought-provoking and sensible and have inspired me to add the note that follows… Though this article centers on the benefits of lawns and grass, it is not intended to exclude other vegetation. Diversity is the true language of nature.