Thursday, June 24

Bermuda Grass: Friend Indeed or Just a Weed?

Anyone who has ever played golf south of the Mason-Dixon line has probably walked on Bermuda grass. This perennial grass thrives in tropical and sub-tropical climates. It is used extensively for golf courses, sports fields, parks, and lawns. It grows not only in the southern U.S. but in countries around the world with relatively warm year-round temperatures.

Bermuda grass originated in Africa and arrived in the Americas as early as the 1500s. It may have gotten its name from one of the first locations where it was planted in the northern hemisphere. It actually may have travelled to the New World as a stowaway, its seeds being mixed in with hay kept for explorers' horses. Its presence in the U.S. dates back at least to the early 1800s. It is also called devigrass or wiregrass.

Like the more cold-tolerant Zoysia grass, Bermuda grass is hearty but can be invasive. It is sometimes badmouthed as a "weed" for its tendency to overtake flowerbeds and neighboring yards. In fact, advice abounds on how to get rid of Bermuda grass. Its powerful, wire-like root system make this a challenge. Pulling it out does not get rid of it since it "creeps" to other areas. There are various chemical treatments on the market designed to eliminate it.

Proponents of the grass, on the other hand, tout its fast growth and tolerance to heavy traffic. It can also handle salty or sandy conditions, and maintenance is not terribly demanding. Some residents of the southern U.S. proudly describe Bermuda grass as an emblem of the South. The area from eastern Alabama to the Florida Panhandle is sometimes called the Wiregrass Region, for the ubiquitous plant.

The familiar form of Bermuda grass, Cynodon dactylon turns brown at the first drop in temperature below its tropical preference. Varieties have been developed to tolerate colder weather however.

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