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What is Melica?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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As of 2010, Melica is a genus consisting of around 80 perennial grasses. Some common names include melic, melic grass, and onion grass. These species of plant are found in places with a very moderate climate. Some species, such as Melica californica or california melic grass, are cultivated as ornamental plants due to their appearance and overall hardiness. The plants are very resistant to drought, and animals that are known to nibble on garden plants, such as deer, do not normally eat plants of the Melica genus.

Melica plants are native to Europe, southwestern Asia, and northern Africa, but the plants have spread to other countries. They prefer woody areas that are very shaded and not crowded. While most species prefer dry soil, some tolerate or even prefer moist soil. They tend to grow in rocky ground and on hillsides, usually near bodies of water such as streams. As of 2010, no natural hybrids have been found in the wild. However, cultivars are plenty, though rarely fertile enough to reproduce.

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The plant species in this genus generally do not grow taller than 2 feet (60 cm), though a few species can reach up to 6 feet (1.8 m). They flower around summer with silky inflorescences. Some gardeners grow these plants because of the birds they attract, such as cardinals. The seeds germinate easily and grow quickly. Melic grass is potentially invasive in Hawaii in the United States and therefore should not be cultivated in that area. Some species, like Melica altissima, have escaped cultivation and become established in non-native areas of the world.

These plants are considered valuable in some areas of the world due to their many uses. For example, in Raasay these plants are used to craft durable fishing nets. They are used to create brooms and wigs by the country people of western England. In addition, Melica is used as pasture grass because horses, goats, and cows will readily eat the plants, and they grow where many other plants do not, such as on stony mountains. While plants in this genus are nutritious, they do not grow in large enough numbers to be an important forageable food.

As of 2010, numerous proposals have been made to separate the Melica genus into smaller categories. The proposed subgenus Bromelica would include plants with straight pedicles, which is the stem that attaches a flower to the main stem, and disarticulation above the glumes. In the proposed subgenus Melica, the plants would have bent pedicles and disarticulation below the glumes.

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