Figure 1. Image of 4 different cultivar plots in Dr. Keenan Amundsen's Buffalo grass breeding project to determine green up. An up close example of what we will be looking at/working on for the rest of this lesson and an aesthetics visual of Buffalo Grass. (Keenan Amundsen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Buffalo Grass Biology and History

Buffalo grass is a perennial turf grass that is native to North America and is one of few native turf grasses we actively use here in the United States. Buffalo grass gets its name from the buffalo that would graze it primarily before the Midwest was settled. As pioneers began settling the west, they made sod houses that were typically composed of Buffalo grass, due to its fibrous root structure that held the soil together. Aside for its nutritional and structural benefits, it also adds some beautiful lawn aesthetics as well, being used in lawns throughout the country such as East Campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Not only does it add a lot of value to lawns across the country they are considered low maintenance due to their high drought tolerance and do not require a lot of nutrition, which allows you to cut back on fertilizer costs as well. Which is why Dr. Amundsen wanted to add buffalo grass to golf courses due to its practicality and low cost. 

Along with the good also comes the bad, Dr. Amundsen was also very aware of its shortcomings as a turf grass that would make it difficult to incorporate into golf courses. For instance, Buffalo grass does not like a lot of traffic or physical movement on top of it. For obvious reasons this could create some issues as golf carts and golfers going over it repeatedly will ware and tear out a lot of grass. Another issue that Buffalo grass would face is potential shading. Besides grass, a lot of golf courses like to incorporate trees and other vegetation to add some scenery that divides up the course and adds a little bit of a challenge as well. Buffalo grass in its natural habitat where it normally does not have a lot of tall competitors going back in the old days when it was the dominant form of vegetation out on the open prairie.

Seeing these challenges Dr. Amundsen collected some varieties that would be the best fit and began breeding for shading and traffic tolerance. Luckily for Dr. Amundsen this endeavor was not too difficult as Buffalo grass is dioecious, meaning the plants are either male or female. So Dr. Amundsen could make crosses between different male and female cultivars easily, without the need of separating the male and female flowers. Compared to other plants where you would have to separate male and female flowers and then cross pollinate them, which can be tedious and time consuming especially if the flower is small. 

After the buffalo grass plants have been cross pollinated, we will collect the seed that will be planted into plots, and then will be subjected to shading. After shading the plots, it is our job to help Dr. Amundsen out by giving them a National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) rating on a scale of 1-9 to see if we find a cultivar that is tolerant to shading.