Dactylis glomerata, also known as cock's-foot, orchard grass, or cat grass (due to its popularity for use with domestic cats) is a common species of grass in the genus Dactylis. It is a cool-season perennial C3 bunchgrass native throughout most of Europe, temperate Asia, and northern Africa.
It is a principal species in the widespread National Vegetation Classification habitat community MG1 (Arrhenatherum elatius grassland) in the United Kingdom, and so can be found with Arrhenatherum elatius (false oat grass).
It can be found in meadows, pasture, roadsides, and rough grassland.
Cock's-foot grows in dense perennial tussocks to 20–140 centimetres (7.9–55.1 in; 0.66–4.59 ft) tall, with grey-green leaves 20–50 centimetres (7.9–19.7 in; 0.66–1.64 ft) long and up to 1.5 centimetres (0.59 in) broad, and a distinctive tufted triangular flowerhead 10–50 centimetres (3.9–19.7 in; 0.33–1.64 ft) long, which may be either green or red- to purple-tinged (usually green in shade, redder in full sun), turning pale grey-brown at seed maturity. The spikelets are 5–9 millimetres (0.20–0.35 in) long, typically containing two to five flowers. It has a characteristic flattened stem base which distinguishes it from many other grasses.
It flowers from June to September.
Dactylis glomerata is treated as the sole species in the genus Dactylis by some authors, while others include one to four other species. It is commonly divided into several regional subspecies, particularly by those authors accepting only the single species:
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. glomerata. Widespread; described from Europe.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. altaica. Central Asia.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. himalayensis. (syn. D. himalayensis). Western Himalaya.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. hispanica (syn. D. hispanica). Mediterranean, SW Asia.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. ibizensis. Balearic Islands.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. judaica
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. juncinella. Spain.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. lobata (syn. D. glomerata subsp. aschersoniana, D. aschersoniana, D. polygama). Central Europe.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. lusitanica. Portugal.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. marina (syn. D. marina). Western Mediterranean region, Iberia, Canary Islands.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. reichenbachii. Italy.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. santai
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. slovenica. Central Europe.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. smithii (syn. D. smithii). Macaronesia.
- Dactylis glomerata subsp. woronowii (syn. D. woronowii). Russia.
Dactylis glomerata subsp. glomerata and subsp. hispanica are tetraploid forms with 28 chromosomes; some of the other subspecies, including subsp. himalayensis and subsp. lobata are diploid, with 2n = 14. Hexaploid forms with 42 chromosomes are also known, but rare. Tetraploid forms are larger and coarser than diploid forms.
Cultivation and usesEdit
Cock's-foot is widely used as a hay grass and for pastures because of its high yields and sugar content, which makes it sweeter than most other temperate grasses. In dry areas as in much of Australia, Mediterranean subspecies such as subsp. hispanica are preferred for their greater drought tolerance. It requires careful grazing management; if it is undergrazed it becomes coarse and unpalatable.
The grass is popularly grown to satisfy the craving of domestic cats to chew grass, hence its colloquial name cat grass.
The seeds were first collected by Rogers Parker in Hertfordshire; this was then developed by the agricultural reformer Coke of Norfolk. Parker's estate, Munden, near Bricket Wood, was inherited by the botanist George Hibbert.
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