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<   No. 1677   2007-08-30   >

Comic #1677

1 Jamie: So where's the grass?
2 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: WOT? NO GRASS 'ERE, GUV.
3 Jamie: Aha! Myth busted!
3 Death of Inhaling Hatmaking Chemicals: MYFF?
4 Jamie: The grass is always greener... on The Other Side!

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Grass is any of roughly 10,000 different species of monocotyledonous plants of the family Poaceae. The grasses include many of the most important plants for human society, including the grains wheat, barley, oats, corn, and several others, as well as plants as diverse as bamboo, sugar cane, and of course the green stuff we use to make lawns and parks, as well as feed much of our livestock. In fact, it's pretty hard to argue against the proposition that the grass family is the most important plant family for human beings. (I suspect the only real contender would be a family that includes the majority of the phytoplankton that supports the oceanic food chain and produces much of the Earth's oxygen.)

The really interesting thing about grasses - no, wait, one of the really interesting things about grasses - is that despite their ubiquitous presence and overwhelming influence in shaping much of the biogeography of the world's various biomes, they have evolved only fairly recently, as plant families go. Fossil evidence of grasses peters out around 60 million years ago, shortly (relatively) after the extinction of the dinosaurs. So dinosaurs and grasses likely never co-existed.

Early representations of the Mesozoic era in paintings or film often ignored this fact and showed dinosaurs and grass in the same scene. Indeed, it was probably difficult for early artists to imagine scenes populated with animals but not grasses. Recent recreations of dinosaurs in their natural habitat have been more faithful and generally display plants that would have existed at the time, without any grasses.

Another really interesting thing about grasses is the profound effect they have had on the evolution of landscapes and the overall ecology of much of the world since they appeared. Indeed, one of the major recognised terrestrial habitats is grassland, a term that encompasses dozens of local variations: savannah, prairie, steppe, plains, pampas, scrubland, meadow, veldt, páramo, llanos, cerrado, altiplano, etc, etc. Much of the world today would be completely unrecognisable without grasses.

Oh, and this is a straight-up comic gag. No colloquial drug reference is intended. In fact, I think it's a shame that such an important class of organisms has had its name corrupted into a euphemism for a psychoactive plant that isn't a grass at all.

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