Cats own Grass
Last month I wrote about the love cats have for two plants, Catnip and Catmint. Both of these are members of the genusNepeta. The genus is closely related to other common herbs like Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme and Oregano and both species are high in the key ingredient nepetalactone. They are attractive garden shrubs in which cats like to roll around and sniff in the resultant fumes.
There is a third plant that cats (and many other animals) just love!. This is the easy to grow Cat Grass. It is also sold as Pet Grass, Bird Grass and has the Latin name of Dactylis glomerata. It is wide spread around the world and is more widely known as Cock’s Foot and Orchard Grass.
Dactylis is considered a single genus species with a large number of sub-species. Like so many plants the botanists are still debating the breakdown into species, sub-species and scientific groupings. They may eventually agree on the correct classification The subspecies are generally based on geographical origins with some strong differences based on chromosome numbers including tetraploid and hexaploid forms.
The mature plant is an evergreen perennial reaching 1m in height and 80cm wide. It is native to Northern Africa, Europe and Central Asia and has become naturalised in parts of Eastern United States. The leaves are up to 50cm long and are 1.5cm wide at maturity. It has green to pale red flower heads that are 10cm long, pyramid shaped and occur from late summer to mid autumn. The flower heads little spikelets of three to five flowers. Like many grasses the flowers are hermaphrodite and are wind pollinated. Also like most glasses the pollen will contribute to the irritation felt by hay fever sufferers.
The grass grows well in part to full shade in a wide range of climates. It performs well in open well drained soils, hopes to stop erosion and will even act as a binding plant for sandy areas. It will not respond well to heavy soils or water logged ground.
Around the world it is used for grazing and as cut hay. It is good foraging plant providing a balanced source of nutrients. With a grass so widely grown there are many different cultivars and selections whicjh are based on nutrient content, drought, soil, fertiliser tolerance, growth rates and shape and colour.
The main use of Dactylis glomerata in the home garden is for the family cat. Most cats just love to eat Cat Grass and indoor cats find it especially enjoyable. There is plenty of debate as to why they like this particular grass over other ones. Unlike Catnip there isn’t a particular chemical which induces a drug like high. Also cats eat the grass rather than roll in and sniff the fumes. There are several reasons that are accepted for the love cats have for this plant:
• acts as a laxative and aids in the passage of hairballs.
• can induce vomiting, also helping the cat remove hairballs.
• provides cats with certain vitamins and nutrients lacking in the normal diet.
• provides fibre - .cats need fibre too
• tastes good (to cats)
Cat Grass won’t harm cats and it is felt that they will get some level of nutritional benefit and plenty of ‘happy’ times when they eat it. Indoor pussies enjoy chewing on the grass and even rubbing their faces in it. This is important as they are unable to get the same pleasure outdoor cats get from the home garden.
As an ornamental the plant can be easily grown anywhere in the garden and will perform well. As it gets older it is less palatable to cats and is a bit rough for them to chew on. The cats prefer fresh young growth which is best obtained from new plantings. For outdoor cats this is done by sowing fresh seed or planting new seedlings every few months. For indoor cats it requires new pots or trays put near their food bowls on a regular basis. These can either be bought in from the nurseries or produced in the garden. If the cats don’t damage the plants to badly the pots or trays can be put outside for re-shooting.
Keep your cats happy – give it plenty of Cat Grass, Catnip, Catmint and Cat Thyme and they will love you forever.