Buffalo grass takes its name from the fact that the bison herds that once dominated the prairies where it grew depended on it as a major source of food. Buffalo grass has uses as an ornamental. The plant is a perennial that grows during the warm season. The identification of buffalo grass comes from recognition of its many features.
Size and Form
This grass is low-growing, reaching 8 to 10 inches tall if not mowed. Some of the leaf blades can be as long as a foot, but these typically are prostrate and make the grass appear short. The leaves of buffalo grass are curly. The stems are quite slender and the seed heads are compact.
Male and Female
Buffalo grass comes in male and female varieties, with male plants possessing from two to three spikes that resemble miniature flags on the seed stalk. This stalk is from 4 to 6 inches tall and occurs above the leaves. Female buffalo grass seed head is shorter, occurring just above the upper leaves so that it is difficult to detect. The seed head consists of groups of from three to five spikelets that have a hairy appearance.
Once buffalo grass develops in warm weather, the leaves have a blue-green to gray-green. By fall, the color of buffalo grass changes to a light shade of lavender. In winter, buffalo grass becomes tan as it goes into a dormant stage.
The roots of buffalo grass are thin, but they can reach as far as 5 feet underground, which helps the grass survive periods of drought because they obtain moisture well below the surface. However, the majority of the roots will be in the initial half foot of soil, as much as 70 percent of the total amount of roots. This causes buffalo grass to form clumps of sod, as the roots hold together amounts of dirt. The early settlers often used the sod from buffalo grass to construct their prairie homes.
One feature of buffalo grass is its stolons, stems that grow horizontally at the surface of the ground or just below it. Stolons are common among the grasses, and those of buffalo grass can extend several feet in each direction. These stolons will produce new growth at each node, about every 2 to 2.5 inches, allowing the buffalo grass to spread.