Those Magnificent Grasses

Originally published in Disciple, May 10, 2010.

What in the world would we do without the grasses? This family of organisms can easily qualify as royalty in the kingdom of plants, for they are the most useful and needful to man of all the plants on earth.

Of course, I'm not referring to our decorative lawn grass varieties. They are nice, but hardly needful. Instead, think of wheat, from which bread-the "staff of life"-is made. Wheat is a grass. Then think of rice, which feeds most of the world's population. It is a grass. Think, too, of corn (or maize), which also feeds a large part of the world. It, too, is a grass. There are also oats and millet, rye and barley: all grasses.

Without these cereal grains, as they are called, human life would only be possible on a vastly smaller, simpler scale. Without grass, there would be no grazing animals. Down the long centuries, men would have had to walk instead of ride, and carry their own burdens rather than loading them on animals-or on wagons drawn by draft animals.

Without grains there could be no teeming cities, for cities demand the kind of large food reserves which grains chiefly make possible. The world would have remained a world of subsistence agriculture-a world of only small farms and small villages. Hunger would never be far from minds and stomachs, because only grains are easily capable of long-term storage. Modern civilization would probably never have arisen, for technology rises from abundance.

If we look more closely at the nature of grass, we shall see how truly remarkable it is. For example, it is good for grass to be grazed upon, or mowed. Most plants grow from the tips of their stems, so if the tip is cut off the plant cannot grow anymore. Grass, however, grows upward from the base. Cutting the top of a grass plant merely encourages new growth from additional buds at the base.

Furthermore, grass even benefits from being trampled by cattle! Many types of grass spread by sending out runners, and when these are cut by the hooves of cattle they often send down roots at the point of the break. New plants grow from these new roots.

Thus there is a balanced beneficial relationship between grazing animals and grass. The animals fill their bellies with tender leaves and stems, and are content. The grass, in turn, is encouraged to spread by being clipped and trampled, and also is fertilized by dung from the animals.

Meat-eaters among us recognize another big benefit from the grasses, for without grass there would be no grazing animals-and no meat for most dinner tables. Hunting would be the only means of satisfying man's taste for meat (and even that would be difficult-most wild game eats grass also!).

Have we exhausted the list of things to be thankful for about grass? By no means! Grass also serves as a means of preserving precious soil: the spreading root systems of many grasses form sod, which absorbs rain and works to prevent soil erosion. Again, in many parts of the world men make furniture, ships, houses, and even water pipes from grass-for bamboo is also a grass, and many useful things can be made from bamboo.

Truly, we are fortunate indeed that our world is so well provided with grass! But how did it happen? Was it an accident of nature that brought into existence a family of plants that almost begs to be eaten? Absurd! This is contrary to every principle discoverable in nature. How is it, we ask, that in nearly all varieties of plant life, growth takes place at the tip-but not so with grass? It is almost as though someone had deliberately designed grass to be good for animals and man.

And that, we believe, is exactly the case. Someone did create grass with the precise characteristics needed to undergird civilization for mankind. We know that someone as God. In the Book of Genesis, the Bible says: "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grassand the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind,' and it was so" (Gen. 1:11).

God also made dry grass to be good for starting fires-and thus giving us both tinder for fires and a powerful example of the impermanence of our physical bodies. "All flesh is as grass," the Bible says, "and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and the flower of it falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Pet. 1:24). We are not here for long. But we are someplace forever. This also is the message of the Bible. The patriarch Job was well aware of this, thousands of years ago. He said: "I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26).

Job didn't know his Redeemer's name, but we do: His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God and God with God (cf. John 1:1; Phil. 2:6; etc.). The Bible also says: "The sting of death is sinbut thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15-56-57). Job's Redeemer can be your Redeemer also, if you will call upon His Name.

The Old Scot (Ted Kyle) served as managing editor for Pulpit Helps magazine (Disciple's predecessor publication) from 1993-2008. He was always fascinated by the natural world, and readily saw God's hand in every detail. Ted went to be with His Creator and Savior in April 2013.

Source:Grass, the Everything, Everywhere Plant, by Augusta Goldin, Thomas Nelson, Nashville & NY, 1977.

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