|The dominant plants of meadows are native, rather than
cultivated, grasses, interspersed with a great variety of different herbaceous flowering
plants. Most of the plants growing in meadows are fairly common species also regularly
found in other habitats. With the notable exceptions of certain now rare species such as
orchids, fritillaries and cowslips, the main value of meadows lies in the sheer diversity
of their plant life. This affords a local concentration of a wide variety of invertebrate
food plants, together with shelter for a great many different invertebrate species. This
in its turn means that there is an abundance of food for birds and mammals.The actual
plant species composition of meadows will vary from area to area, depending on local
geological, soil and climatic conditions. The meadow plants discussed here are those
characteristic of lowland meadows in Devon, Southwest England.
Dry Hay Meadows
These are characterized by mixures of grasses such as Cocksfoot (Dactylis
glomerata), Timothy (Phleum pratense), Common Bent (Agrostis capillaris),
Sweet Vernal-grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) and Crested Dog's-tail (Cynosurus
While grasses may appear to be superficially similar when they are
not flowering, once the flowering heads appear the differences become much clearer.
The grasses provide the basic architecture of the meadow. Over the years, thick mats of
old, dead, fibrous foliage build up underneath the current year's growth. This provides a
large reservoir of decaying material for recycling, as well as winter shelter for a great
variety of invertebrates. The grasses are also the foodplants of many of the meadow
butterflies. One grass is definitely not the same as another from a caterpillar's view
point. Some butterflies, such as the Marbled White, need a mixture of native grasses
growing in the same area because the caterpillars favour different grass species at
different stages of their growth.
||One of the main features of
meadows is the sheer diversity of plants which they contain. Mixed in amongst the variety
of native grasses are a great many other flowering plants. These include plantains, docks,
buttercups, vetches and clovers, dandelions, nettles, Selfheal, Lesser Knapweed, scabious,
thistles, hawkbits, Ox-eye Daisies, Yellow-rattle and on rare occasions, Cowslips.
As real prizes in amongst the waving meadow grasses, depending on local
conditions, a variety of orchids, such as Common Spotted, Green-winged and Twayblade may
also be found. When conditions are right they can occur in great profusion.