Clean Air Day is 365 Days a Year with Grass

When I was a kid in the late 60’s/early 70’s we used to have ‘smog days.’  I can’t begin to tell you how miserable that was.  The air was so thick with smog you couldn’t see a couple of blocks down.  It kind of looked like a brownish fog.  We used to call it liquid sunshine.  When you took a breath you’d be lucky to get halfway through without coughing a lung up.  Your chest felt like it was collapsing.  Normally smog days were worst during the week when you went to school because that’s when most cars were on the road.  The exhaust from all vehicles was not monitored and factories were allowed to spew whatever they wanted in the air.  Teachers were alerted of smog days when they arrive at school.

They needed to modify their curriculum to keep kids calm with no physical activity.  Sometimes we’d spend the whole week inside with no daylight in sight.  Can you imagine a room of 30 kids not able to burn off their energy let alone a whole school?  Most of our time was spent with the lights dimmed, windows closed and heads on our desks.  Let’s not forget schools normally didn’t have air conditioners in those days.  Short of wearing a strait jacket we were subdued as best as possible.

California Clean Air Day is a project by the Coalition for Clean Air.  A day in October is set aside to encourage individuals and businesses to take action to improve air quality which will help with overall health (May is National Clean Air month spearheaded by a different organization).   Their website is looking for pledges:  “Choose from each of our three main categories (Switching Things Out, Planting Something, and Reducing Vehicle ) to triple your impact!  You can plant a tree, for example, or try out public transit or biking for the day.”    I am quite surprised on their GREEN pledge which includes:  “plant a home garden or plant in a community garden, plant a tree and compost your food or engage in a composting program.”  All of these are wonderful, but the powerhouse of the three is missing – Plant A Lawn!  Let’s take an environmental look at what a lawn can do for air quality not just for a day but all year-’round.

Grass: It’s a Plant.  Sometimes we forget that turf is a plant and all the things it can do for us.  It may look like a velvety green carpet, as it should, but it’s a living breathing organism that can be tough as nails as we watch our favourite sports team play soccer, baseball and football on it.  It takes a beating when playing polo or backyard croquet.  But underneath all that punishment is an amazing plant that is so fascinating we can forget what it does for us.  On the other hand a lawn can be so soft and supple on the feet, for our pets to roam on and a place our children can play without worry.

The Magic of a Grass Leaf.  Also known as blades, lawns are usually made up of countless of individual plants.  There are exceptions to the rule but for our purposes, that’s what we’re going for today.  Although a blade of grass can stand up by itself it enjoys snuggling with members of its same kind to create a tight-knit cluster of plants that will help each other with their life challenges.

There are so many elements to a blade of grass it is mind-boggling:  peduncle, culm node, culm, leaf blade, leaf sheath, auricles, ligule, crown, stolon, rhizome, tiller, meristem, and collar region.  And these are the parts we can see with the naked eye!  When we take a look inside of a blade under a microscope the magic of cleaning air manifests itself.

Pro-Tip.  Lawns like to be mowed weekly.  A professional golf green can be mowed upwards of once to two times a day!  Whether at home or on the green a sharp blade is needed to make a clean cut otherwise the tips will heal over brown.

A blade of grass is made up of layers.  The first layer, the epidermis, is coated with a type of wax that prevents water from leaving too fast.  The deeper we go in the geekier we can get.  Fast forward and the part I like that offsets a carbon footprint is called stomates or stomata (I don’t know, what’s stomata with you? Sorry, I just had to do that).  Simply put the stomata are the breathing apparatuses of a leaf.  All leaf plants have stomates, even trees.  But if you were to lay out all the leaves of a tree flat on the ground you wouldn’t have as many stomates as you would on a lawn.  Stomates can get clogged.  Trees normally aren’t washed off so they’ll get clogged and their efficiency is a lesson but a turfs sprinkler system keeps the blades clean.   Couple it with weekly mowing and the leaf is rejuvenating new stomata with each cut.

Fun Fact:  When grass is cut molecules called green leaf volatiles (GLV’s) are released.  The particles are so small they become airborne floating to the sniffer upwards of a mile away.  This intoxicating scent can conjure up childhood memories and release good endorphins.

Nature’s Air Conditioner

Everyone enjoys the shade of a tree and we want you to grow trees but once again grass comes in as the winner when it comes to cleaning the air and cooling it down.  On hot days the grass is 15%-30% + cooler than dirt, concrete, asphalt and fake grass.  Consider a lawn like nature’s air conditioner.

One way to be certain we don’t return to the days of wheezing and coughing smog days is to support Clean Air Day 365 days with the carbon-fighting green footprint we call a lawn.

Grass.  It’s good for you, your family and the environment.

Nick Federoff PBS|KLCS TV and Syndicated Radio Horticulturalist

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