Panel 1: The American Lawn is the largest American irrigated crop, taking up 3x as much land as corn. Panel 2: As long as there’ve been European settlers, there’s been American lawn grass. Panel 3: (Not that there wasn’t grass here already) (Image: a colonial American boot stepping on grass) Panel 4: Settlers brought cattle, who ate their way through native grasses, replacing them with European grazing grasses, aka Lawn Grass. (Image: a cow eating tallgrass and pooping out lawngrass) When America was founded, lawns were all the trend for rich Europeans. In the name of Fashion, practical grazing became luxury landscaping. Panel 5: It’s a lot of (slave) work to keep lawn short. (Image: Euro-American settler standing in front of his mansion and giant lawn, as it is worked by black men on their knees. Settler says: “Now everyone knows I’m rich and cultured!”) Panel 6: Keeping a lawn went from fancy to affordable with the 1860s availability of the lawn mower. (Image: rotary blade lawn mower in action) The most common lawngrass is Poa pratensis aka Kentucky bluegrass, named because it travelled faster than settlers and self-seeded in kentucky P. pratensis unmown grows to 3 feet tall. Often cut to 3 inches tall and regulated by local law and neighbors Image: A cube of grass and soil, depicting mowed P. pratensis except for one blade, and shallow soil with runner roots. Shallow 2 inch roots form a dense mat, spreading by runners and seeds. Co-evolved with grazers, it doesn’t care if it’s eaten (or mowed) so long as the base is safe. Image: Cow and lawnmower cutting short lawn grass The dream of a perfect, chemical lawn was an invention of post-war advertising that still holds sway. (image: disembodied hand spraying Weed-X on a dandelion in an otherwise perfect lawn) But most lawns don’t look like that (Image: a taller lawn full of weeds) If you’ve ever seen a lawn, you know it’s never just grass (image: grass surrounded by common weeds like dandelion, clover, violets) European lawns were always mixed. Back to the 1100s, “enamelled” lawns fill medieval poetry and art (Image: lawn with daisies, violets, chamomile, and other small flowers) American lawns were intentionally seeded with clover all the way up to the 1950s, bringing color and longevity (Image: lawn with clover) Now, for biodiversity and beauty, people are trying all sorts of alternative for their lawns. (Image: a variety of alternative lawns including chamomile, thyme, yarrow, sedges, and prairie-like)
That’s where we come in! Our experiment seeks to formalize and study what a lot of people are trying casually on the side. What does a prairie-like lawn look like? How does it work? We’re here to find out!
Image: A depiction of seven grasses being used in the experiment drawn to scale, including Poa pratensis, Festuca ovina, Bouteloua dactyloides, Carex albicans, Carex pensylvanica, Eragrostis spectabilis, and Juncus tenuis.