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A membranous appendage or fringe of hairs called the ligule lies at the junction between sheath and blade, preventing water or insects from penetrating into the sheath.
The spikelets are further grouped into panicles or spikes.
Recent findings of grass-like phytoliths in Cretaceous dinosaur coprolites have pushed this date back to 66 million years ago.
Wu, You & Li (in press) described grass microfossils extracted from a specimen of the hadrosauroid dinosaur Equijubus normani from the Early Cretaceous (Albian) Zhonggou Formation (China).
With around 780 genera and around 12,000 species, Grasses are also an important part of the vegetation in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests and tundra.
The Poaceae are the most economically important plant family, providing staple foods from domesticated cereal crops such as maize, wheat, rice, barley, and millet as well as forage, building materials (bamboo, thatch, straw) and fuel (ethanol).
They became widespread toward the end of the Cretaceous period, and fossilized dinosaur dung (coprolites) have been found containing phytoliths of a variety that include grasses that are related to modern rice and bamboo.Most of the grasses divide into two physiological groups, using the C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways for carbon fixation.The C4 grasses have a photosynthetic pathway, linked to specialized Kranz leaf anatomy, which allows for increased water use efficiency, rendering them better adapted to hot, arid environments and those lacking in carbon dioxide.Many types of animals eat grass as their main source of food, and are called graminivores – these include cattle, sheep, horses, rabbits and many invertebrates, such as grasshoppers and the caterpillars of many brown butterflies.Grasses are also eaten by omnivorous or even occasionally by primarily carnivorous animals.