Origins of Some Turf Grasses
Most people look at lawns, see green stuff, and think that green stuff has always been around. While North America has always had prairie grasses and meadow grasses tucked in and around forests, the turf grasses we know mainly come from faraway regions. In fact, the major native turf grass is buffalograss, often used in the southern Plains states. Here's a quick background on the origins of some of our common turf grasses.
Native to the Gulf of Mexico, West Indies, and West Africa, this tropical grass is now popular in the southern reaches of the country. The earliest records show its presence in places as far away as Brazil, Uruguay, and Hawaii. It's been planted as a turf grass in Florida since the 1890's.
St. Augustinegrass pictured above
This popular grass was introduced from Africa in the 1700's, probably as seeds mixed in with hay. It was recognized by colonists for its ability to withstand heavy traffic. Like most grasses, its early value was for forage, but by the 1920's, it was being used in lawns. On golf courses in Florida and Texas, the "Tif" variety became an increasingly popular replacement for putting "greens" made of pounded sand.
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The most common grass of the Southeast, centipedegass was introduced from China in 1918. A USDA scientist named Dr. Meyer came across it while exploring China for potentially useful plants. He gathered some seeds and sent them to the US. Though Dr. Meyer was killed by thieves, his seeds arrived in his suitcase. These seeds were grown into sprigs on various USDA sites. 4 of these sprigs were taken by a scientist to his father's farm. 3 survived, and became the grandparents of all the centipedegrass lawns of so many Southeastern homes.
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What we now call Kentucky bluegrass probably came to the U.S. with the earliest European settlers. Some say the Native Americans call the grass "White Man's Grass," because it seemed to grow wherever the settlers went. These early settlers were unhappy with the native grasses as forage, and bluegrass considered a good alternative for their imported animals. Why it's called Kentucky Bluegrass because that's where seeds were first collected for turf production. The "Bluegrass" part of the name describes the bluish tips of the full-grown grass that appear in the spring.
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This grass comes from Asia. It's named Zoysia after an 18th-century amateur botanist, Karl von Zois. This grass has been grown as turf grass in Japan since at least 1100. Zoysia was introduced to the US in 1911, and by the 1950's various cultivars were commercially available.
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The two types of fescues commonly seen on lawns today are fine and tall fescues. Fine fescues are really a group of closely related grasses from different parts of primarily Asia and Europe. One of these fine fescues was a favorite in Scotland since the 1500's for golf courses. These grasses are noted for their ability to withstand poor soils, shade, and dry conditions. Today, fine fescues are often blended with Kentucky Bluegrass seeds for Sun & Shade mixes. Tall fescues were introduced from Europe in the 1800's. Tall fescue is a popular grass type due to its ability to withstand drought, poor soils, and wet conditions.
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