Statistical Survey of the County of Clare, 1808

By Hely Dutton

Chapter III - Section 7

Natural Grasses

THE indigenous grasses are such as are usually produced in soils of the same nature in every part of Ireland, expect the alopecurus pratensis or meadow fox-tail, which I could not find in any part of the county; the different sorts of phleum are often taken for it, but the spike of this is smooth, whilst the other is bearded like barley, and their time of flowering marks their difference; the alopecurus flowers very early, the other very late. In the dry calcareous soils of the most fattening quality the following grasses predominate.

White clover, - Trifolium repens.
Yarrow, - - Achillea millefolium.
Trefoil, - - Medicago lupulina.
Bird’s-foot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus.
Crested dog’s-tail-grass, Cynosurus cristatus.
Ladies’ bed-straw, Galium verum.
Perennial red clover, &c. &c. & c.

In soils, that approach more towards clay, plants appropriate to them are usually found. It will not, I presume, be expected I should make a tedious display of every weed in the county, but I shall mention, in the Appendix, the more rare plants found by Dr. Wade and Mr. Mackay. 

Such is the proneness of our favoured soil and climate to produce the best grasses, that, even after the most deteriorating system of cropping, a few years rest enables our fruitful soil to furnish a supply of the plants above stated; this, amongst others, is the reason, that grass-seeds are seldom sowed, and is a matter of astonishment to the farmers of England, where such a system could not be pursued, the ground there producing but little natural grasses; indeed here it is rather a misfortune than a blessing, because in some measure it encourages the farmers to pursue so bad a system, which is a serious loss to the community, as is the practice throughout Ireland. This shall be further investigated hereafter, and deserves the most marked attention of the landholders.

The best season for sowing grass-seeds has long been a cause of much controversy amongst agricultural writers; some have recommended them to be sowed in spring with a crop of corn, others by themselves at the same season; many are advocates for autumnal sowing without any corn crop, where the ground is clean; many contend for an additional crop of spring corn, and that the corn should be sown much thinner than if alone, otherwise much of the grass will be destroyed. If the ground is dirty, I would recommend sowing in July or August, with a very thin crop of oats, to be mowed green for soiling, and cut close to the ground, by which means there would be an opportunity of destroying weeds, which would not be able to shoot again before winter; the oats would shelter the young grass from the sun, whilst their assistance was necessary, and by the time they were long enough to cut for soiling the weeds would have attained to some growth, and would be cut down along with them, and the frosts of the ensuing winter would complete their destruction; even if the weeds were not cut, they would not have time to perfect their seeds before winter; in the following spring, the grass, if sowed thick enough, would get the start of annual weeds and overpower them. Sowing in autumn without a crop of corn, though it may have succeeded in very clean rich ground, and favourable seasons, is perhaps very inferior to sowing with a very thin crop of oats or barley; from want of attending to this, and always permitting the corn to ripen, has, I am convinced, originated the preference. Many experienced agriculturists have lately adopted the practice of sowing a thin crop of rape in July with their grass-seeds, to be eaten off frequently by sheep during the winter and spring; the treading of the sheep and their manure are highly beneficial to light soils, or reclaimed bog or mountain. I was formerly an advocate for sowing grass-seeds in spring only, but I have had such frequent opportunities of seeing the superiority of those sowed in summer, that I warmly recommend the practice.

Amongst the natural grasses of the county, those produced in the corcass lands along the Shannon and Fergus are greatly superior in luxuriance; it is reckoned nothing extraordinary to mow six tons of hay per acre, and it is asserted, that eight tons have been often produced; one man weighed the produce of half an acre, he was quite disappointed, it only weighed three tons! Boyle Vandeleur, Esq. had twenty-four weighed loads of four cwt. each, on each acre of corcass, at 5l. per acre. It is not a little extraordinary, that so bad a kind as couchgrass (triticum repens) should be esteemed by many as a very valuable corcass meadow-grass. These rich lands are apt to be filled with rushes, where they are neglected, and chiefly where heavy cattle are permitted to go in winter; I should think sheep at that season should be the only stock permitted to pasture on ground of so very tender a surface. Mr. Singleton, who rents large tracts of these lands from Sir Edward O’Brien, has nearly destroyed rushes by constantly digging them up, as soon as they appear. The grasses, that predominate on those rich lands, are,

Poa trivialis, Common meadow-grass.
Triticum repens, Couch-grass.
Cynosurus cristatus, Crested dog’s-tail or thraneens.
Trifolium pratense, Red clover.
Trifolium repens, White clover.
Bromus mollis, Soft brome-grass.
Avena elatior, Tall oat-grass.
Lolium perenne, Ray-grass.
Holcus lanatus, Meadow soft-grass.
Hordeum pratense, Meadow barley.
Agrostis stolonifera, Creeping bent-grass.

There are some more kinds, that I could not ascertain, but the above are the most numerous; here, where I expected to have found the alopecurus pratensis in great perfection, I could not discover a single plant; it flowers so early it might have escaped me, for it was September when I was there; dactylis glomerata or rough cock’s-foot-grass was very rare. As there are many very inferior kinds for meadow in the list, for instance, couch-grass, crested dog’s-tail, soft brome-grass, meadow barley and creeping bent-grass, it shews what luxuriance can effect; for they were here so totally changed by it, that they were in general upwards of three feet high; any person, who has seen the creeping bent-grass growing in worn-out dry soils, will scarcely credit this. There is a plant, which the inhabitants call lutther, growing in rivers of slow current or in stagnant pools, which produces extraordinary effects; cows almost dry, put into a field near where this plant grows, almost immediately give a great quantity of milk; but they must be watched, for it has the same dangerous effect of every other kind of luxuriant green food, if eaten in too great quantities at once. On this plant geese grow to a large size, and become exceedingly fat and well flavoured in a short time, and make every exertion to procure it.

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