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Grasses used to help stabilize erroding land

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

When University of Georgia researchers bred their latest turfgrass varieties, they had home lawns, athletic fields and pastures in mind. Now grasses they bred are also being used to prevent erosion and rebuild land after wildfires and hurricanes.

"When we bred our new tall fescues, we bred them to be suited for Georgia and to be drought tolerant," said Bob Carrow, an agronomist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Now the seed companies' major business with these grasses is in land reclamation."

Perfect for neglected areas

Carrow said seed companies are marketing tall fescue for planting in harsh environments.

"It's being used to rebuild areas after fires and for highway stabilization to prevent erosion," Carrow said. "Landmark Seed Company is using our tall fescue releases to rebuild the western U.S. after fires and they're using it in China where there are severe erosion problems."

UGA turf breeders discovered the alternative uses for the turfgrass during research trials.

"We found, and the seed companies obviously agree, that these tall fescues are perfect for areas that you don't maintain often," he said. "The Southeast tall fescue variety in particular is perfect for planting along roadsides."

Accounting for half of seed sales

Some turfgrass seed companies are now selling as much as half of their seed for land stabilization and reclamation uses, he said.

Another UGA turfgrass is being promoted for reclamation, too. Seaspray, a seashore paspalum grass, was co-developed by UGA and Turf Seeds of Oregon. The world's first seeded seashore paspalum, Seaspray is available now in limited quantities.

"Seaspray's parent grasses originated along coastlines," said Paul Raymer, a UGA agronomist and one of the grass' breeders. "The new seeded variety should be a natural fit for reclamation projects in coastal areas or were salt is a problem. And its original selling point was that it is very salt tolerant."

Raymer says Turf Seed representatives see the potential for this grass in reclaiming and stabilizing soils in coastal areas.

"Seaspray's perfect for areas where the ground cover has been lost from saltwater storm surges like hurricanes or even the recent catastrophic tsunami," Carrow said.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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