|The open spaces, the open grasslands. Nothing could be better.|
|Cynodon dactylon in Peru|
- Efficient dispersal,
- Rapid population growth,
- Environmental flexibility
- Flexible growth forms and phenotypic plasticity
- The ability to transform environments to benefit themselves
|The deadly spines of Cenchrus sp|
|The sticky awns of Oplismenus undulatifolius helps in its dispersaL|
|Bromus tectorum can flower within 5 weeks of germination|
|Muhlenbergia capillaris is a salt tolerant dune grass|
Grasses have evolved a variety of growth forms that allow them to adapt to almost any situation or event, whether it be (a) continuous defoliation, such as by herbivores, (b) periodic defoliation, such as in seasonal climates, or (c) competition against other plants such as in forests.
In terms of vertical reach, most grasses are low lying organisms, but some species are tall, and form towering grasslands that reach high above the height of a man (e.g. Saccharum spontaneum grasslands). Bamboos are even taller, and their woody stems allow them to reach the height of mature trees in shaded forests.
In terms of horizontal spread, some grasses are bunch grasses that form tussocks, while others spread horizontally via stolons (above ground horizontal shoots) or rhizomes (below ground horizontal shoots) to form (for example) the typical lawns. This type of growth is controlled mainly by whether the species has intravaginal innovation (new shoots originate from axillary buds within the leaf sheaths) or extravaginal innovation (new shoots grow from axillary buds outside the leaf sheaths). In the latter case, the result is the ability of the grass to spread horizontally and blanket an entire area.
The vast majority of grasses also exhibit hemicryptophyte growth, which means that their buds are at or near the soil surface. This is one of the key mechanisms that allows grasses to withstand repeated defoliation via grazing or fire, and thus create climax communities that demonstrate an alternative biome state. This trait also means grasses do not necessarily need to maintain above ground structures during periods of extreme stress, such as droughts and cold, and it is the common reason that people assume grasses are so successful.
|Bamboo sp (probably Bambusa vulgaris)|
5. Transformation of Environments
The ability of members of the Poaceae to significantly transform their environment is perhaps the primary key to their success. By changing their surroundings, grasses create a hostile environment for other plants (including trees and shrubs) that may usurp their dominance, and even relegate them to minor components of the biota.
The way grasses transform the environment is rooted in their makeup. The reproductive fecundity of the grasses allows them to exist in numberless hordes, and their growth forms enable them to blanket entire habitats in contiguous swards, denying food, water and sunlight to competing plants. Their enormous populations, enabled via wind pollination, also allows them to use biotic feedback mechanisms that utilize fire and herbivore grazing to transform closed canopy forests into grasslands, and later maintain this alternative climax state.
|African Tropical Grassland (Savanna), by Gossipguy)|
All the factors above combine to give to the Poaceae an invasive and aggressive quality that is perhaps unmatched in the plant kingdom. It allowed the grasses to range far and wide, colonizing all four corners of the world, and transforming vast lands into the wide open spaces that we see today.
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