Poaceae (Poe-ay-see-ay) or Gramineae (Grammy-nee-ay) is a large and nearly ubiquitous family of monocotyledonous flowering plants known as grasses. Poaceae includes the cereal grasses, bamboos and the grasses of natural grassland and cultivated lawns and pasture. Grasses have stems that are hollow except at the nodes and narrow alternate leaves borne in two ranks. The lower part of each leaf encloses the stem, forming a leaf-sheath. With around 780 genera and around 12,000 species, Poaceae are the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, Fabaceae and Rubiaceae.
Grasslands such as savannah and prairie where grasses are dominant are estimated to constitute 40.5% of the land area of the Earth, excluding Greenland and Antarctica. Grasses are also an important part of the vegetation in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests and tundra. The Poaceae are the most economically important plant family, providing staple foods from domesticated cereal crops such as maize, wheat, rice, barley, and millet as well as forage, building materials (bamboo, thatch, straw) and fuel (ethanol).
Though they are commonly called "grasses", seagrasses, rushes, and sedges fall outside this family. The rushes and sedges are related to the Poaceae, being members of the order Poales, but the seagrasses are members of order Alismatales.
The name Poaceae was given by John Hendley Barnhart in 1895,:7 based on the tribe Poeae described in 1814 by Robert Brown, and the type genus Poa described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus. The term is derived from the Ancient Greek πόα (póa, “fodder”).
Grasses include some of the most versatile plant life-forms. They became widespread toward the end of the Cretaceous period, and fossilized dinosaur dung (coprolites) have been found containing phytoliths of a variety that include grasses that are related to modern rice and bamboo. Grasses have adapted to conditions in lush rain forests, dry deserts, cold mountains and even intertidal habitats, and are currently the most widespread plant type; grass is a valuable source of food and energy for all sorts of wildlife and organics.