Grasses cover approximately one-quarter of the planet's land surface; four species – wheat, rice, maize and sugar – provide 60 per cent of human calorie intake. Almost all of us at some point play on, relax on, plant, tend or harvest grasses for our own pleasure or sustenance, yet for all that their importance to us is not commonly understood. It is predicted that by 2050 the world's population will be approximately 9 billion, and 90 per cent of the planet's land area will be affected by human activities. To feed ourselves we will be more dependent on grasses than ever before. Grasses explains the history of our relationship with these humble yet vital plants from the end of the last Ice Age to the present day. Perhaps more than any other plant, grasses show the effects of human influence: farmed on a massive scale, they are the ultimate staple crop. In turn we are also influenced by grasses, often fighting to preserve our 'green space' and public parks.
Stephen Harris describes this relationship against the background of our heightened awareness of climate change: in the future we will have to balance our needs of grass as food, grass as living space and potentially even grass as fuel. Mixing biology, sociology and cultural history, Grasses provides us with arguably the fullest exploration yet of what grasses mean and have meant: their profound importance to our survival but also to our pleasure, our diets and our minds. Featuring numerous botanical images as well as many fine examples from art and popular culture, Grasses is a must-have for gardeners, food lovers and environmentalists alike.
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Stephen Harris is the Druce Curator of Oxford University Herbaria and a University Research Lecturer. He is the author of many books, most recently Planting Paradise: Plants in Cultivation (1502-1900) (2011), Commentary on Thornton's Temple of Flora (2008) and The Magnificent Flora Graeca (2007).