What is a Greensward?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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A greensward is an area of ground which is primarily covered in grass and small herbaceous plants. The term “grassland” is also an apt description of a greensward, with some people differentiating between the two terms by referring to man-made grasslands as greenswards, and natural grasslands as grasslands. Whatever you call them, greenswards are important ecological features, and they have played an important role in human existence for centuries.

With the exception of Antarctica, every continent on Earth hosts grasslands, in a wide variety of climates and environments. The grassland biome is so widely distributed across the surface of the Earth that numerous animal species have specifically adapted to live on greenswards. Some of these species have been domesticated and exported to other regions of the Earth with great success due to the fact that grasslands are so abundant.

Several features characterize a greensward. The obvious tip-off is the concentration of grasses, which typically form a thick mat of roots and dead plant material which enrich the greensward while also causing the level of the greensward to slowly rise over the centuries. A greensward may also have low-growing herbs and shrubs, but not vines, trees, and tall plants. Greenswards are wide, open spaces with plenty of visibility and little room to hide, which can be advantageous or problematic, depending on the situation and the individual.


Greenswards may be in dry regions, in which case they consist of very hardy, drought-resistant plants which are capable of dealing with the dryness. In extreme cold, low-growing cushion plants may dominate a greensward, while in temperate climates, sweeping stretches of tall prairie grasses and flowers may prevail. It is also possible for a greensward to thrive through periodic or chronic flooding.

In nature, fire in greensward areas is very common, and in fact some plants are specifically designed to germinate after fires. Occasional fires are viewed as healthy in some communities, as they get rid of dead materials and detritus while enriching the soil. Modern fire suppression tactics in some countries have made such natural fires more rare, sometimes with the result of creating catastrophic wildfires when fires finally do take hold, because there is so much fuel.

The open parkland of natural greenswards has appealed to humans for generations, since greenswards can host edible plants, be used for animal fodder, and supply prey for hunting. Humans have actively cultivated greenswards for this reason, and also for their ornamental value. Many famous parks and greens started out as greenswards built by members of a community to have a place to gather and socialize outdoors. Greenswards have also been recognized as ecologically important, since they are used as habitat by a number of valuable plants and animals.


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