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Cocksfoot, Dactylis glomerata, is a common grass of pastures and meadows throughout the UK,  as well as many  other  parts of  the temperate world  where it is either native or has been introduced.  In the USA it is known  as  orchard grass.  In  British  farming  it was widely valued  for both grazing  and hay, provided it wasn’t allowed to get too mature,  and it had a useful  resistance  to  drought.  The author  knew it  from his early days  as a sprog  at the old  Grassland Research Institute,  then located  in an idyllic site  at Hurley in the  mid-Thames  Valley.   New  strains  were  being compared  for  their  palatability  and  feeding  value against  the  old Aberystwyth variety  S37.  Ryegrass and  its  hybrids   rather   took  over  its  role   in  the decades of intensive husbandry which followed,  but cocksfoot is now enjoying a resurgence as interest is renewed in  more diverse  seeds  mixtures  again,  as so-called herbal leys.


The grass is readily recognisable in the vegetative stage from its flattened shoots which open out to long, elegantly tapered leaves, typically of a greyish green colour. The flowering shoots are also distinct, displaying a somewhat clumped arrangement of the spikelets (hence the specific name glomerata), and with the lowest branch usually with a longer stalk and well isolated from the more crowded upper ones. Ecologically, cocksfoot favours neutral to calcareous soils and when occurring in unimproved or semi-improved swards serves an important role as a larval foodplant for some of our most characteristic grassland butterflies. In his Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland (British Wildlife Publishing, 2003), Richard Lewington specifically mentions Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Wall and Large and Essex Skippers as laying their eggs on cocksfoot – and surely our faithful Meadow Brown must do so too!        


In rough grassland, road verges etc., where the flowering stems are allowed to persist and set seed as the season advances, they are favourite anchoring points for the webs and interconnecting strands constructed by orb web spiders.   

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