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Pact May Lead to Heartier, Multipurpose Bluegrass

By Luis Pons
May 19, 2003

Imagine blending Texas bluegrass' tolerance to heat and drought with the turf and forage qualities of Kentucky bluegrass.

Such a mix is among the many goals stated in a new cooperative research and development agreement that will focus on wide-cross hybrids of bluegrasses. The bluegrass, or Poa, hybrids will be developed under the research agreement by the Agricultural Research Service's Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla., and Barenbrug USA, a grass seed company in Tangent, Ore.

ARS hopes the new hybrid grasses will be used as forage for livestock grazing and for land reclamation. Barenbrug USA seeks to provide its customers with better-adapted bluegrass varieties through turf- and forage-breeding projects emphasizing the transfer of drought- and heat-tolerant genes from Texas bluegrass to other Poa species.

Plant geneticist Bryan K. Kindiger will be the project's lead ARS scientist.

The research will revolve around Texas bluegrass, P. arachnifera, a drought-tolerant perennial native to Oklahoma, Texas and southern Kansas. Texas bluegrass is of the same genus as other bluegrass species, including the Kentucky variety, P. pratensis, one of the world's most important perennial turf and productive forage bluegrass species.

Texas bluegrass' most attractive trait is that it reproduces sexually, making it a notable exception among the Poa species. Most other bluegrass types reproduce by apomixis, which limits their capacity for genetic change and the efficient breeding of agronomically useful Poa cultivars.

The agreement is scheduled to last from three to five years. Trials will be performed at sites in Oklahoma, Virginia and Oregon.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.