It is deemed very proper therefore to continue the history of the grasses of Wisconsin begun in the last volume by describing and pointing out the qualities of these grass-like plants; for that history would otherwise be incomplete. [without it.] Nor is it deemed inappropriate in a work like the present, devoted to the agricultural interests of Wisconsin, to present such history with as much completeness as possible.-
The Cyperaceae possess less of nutritive matter than ordinary hay, a larger quantity being necessary to sustain life and flesh in our cattle; but it is evident that this difference cannot be very considerable, when we remember how well they were sustained in the earlier years of the settlement of the country. Wild hay is also more harsh, [and] rough, hard, and dry; the proportion of water given off in drying being much less than in tame hay. According to the experiments of Prof. Emmons this difference is about forty percent. The quantity of ash remaining after burning wild hay is about fifty percent more than in the best hay. It is a little remarkable that Eleocharis tennis which grows in and about water should contain forty percent less of it than timothy hay, which grows on dry ground.
There is much difference also among the different species of Cyperaceous plants; (as in the true grasses) with respect to their nutritive [effects] qualities, some being fine, tender, affording excellent hay; while others are coarse, wirey, and dry yielding but little nourishment to the cattle that eat them.
In one other important particular the wild hay differs from the tame, rendering it far less valuable as a permanent crop. By one of those wonderful adaptations of nature to [th] secure her own purposes which we so often find in the works of the [creator?] it is found that the more the grasses are croped, or pastured, the more their roots spread and become fastened in the soil, thus rendering them secure against destruction from this cause. But experience shown that the wild hay of our marshes will not continue long when thus cropped from year to year. In a few yars these natural meadows "run out" and cease to afford an adequate return for the labor of curring and curing the hay. The nature of the roots of these plants seems to be such as to require the sustaining effects of the annual growth of radical leaves or "aftermath"; hence if they are removed the roots gradually decay and die.
But the Cyperaceae are not all marsh plants; many of them are found on dry grounds, in the woods, the openings, and on the broad prairies. Some are peculiar to the Tamarac and Cedar swamps; some to the cranberry marshes; some flourish best in deep warm sandy soil; some in the depths of the pine forests at the north; while there are many species only to be found on the dry gravelly knolls, fully exposed to the light and heat of the sun. The radical leaves of several of the species are evergreen and hardy, [and] supplying a considerable portion of food during the winter months.
There are no poisonous species among the Cyperaceae, and they seldom yield any active medicinal qualities. Only two plants of this family are mentioned in the enumeration of [such] the Medicinal plants of the United States, of Dr. A. Clapp.*
*Transactions of the American Medical Association Vol. 5 (1852)
The rank and rapid growth of these grass-like plants in marshes and other low wet places yields annually a large amount of vegetable matter, which gradually accumulates, ths filling up the marshes and converting them into dry land. The very numerous long thread-like roots penetrating the soil in every direction form a matted mass that materially aids in this accumulating process. The result is a black peaty kind of earth which is very valuable as a manure for keeping up the natural fertility of the soil. Peat is formed by the decay of a kind of moss (Spaghnum) but the decay of the Cyperaceae forms a substitute very nearly resembling it, and perhaps quite as valuable to the farmer. This process of annual growth and decay having been continued for a long period in past history, very extensive beds of this peaty soil have been accumulated; many marshes have been entirely filled with it so as to be now fit for the plough, while others are rapidly approaching this condition. These beds form a vast storehouse of future wealth, that may be drawn upon for ages to come without exhausting the supply.
The numerous ponds or small lakes almost everywhere dotting the surface of the country are often surrounded by sedge marshes. The roots of these plants frequently extend over the surface of the water around the margin of the lake thus reducing its superficial area. This process continued for a series of years gradually covers the whole lake with a floating turf, destined to increase [gradually] in thickness and strength until the lake is entirely filled. A person walking over the surface of the newly covered lake will cause the turf to sink beneath him as he passes along [rendering his] exciting apprehensions [of] for his safety. In other cases the turf has become sufficiently solid to bear up a loaded team, though it is but a very short distance down to a large body of water. In several cases where heavy embankments of earth have been constructed for rail road over these concealed bodies of water the bank has suddenly sunk and entirely disappeared, causing the soft mass of black soil to bulge up on each side. An additional quantity of earth becomes necessary to bring up the "grade" to the proper level. Three or four instances of this kind have occurred in the construction of the