Bermuda Grass History

Overview

Bermuda grass, Cynodon dactylon, is a popular grass used for lawns, playgrounds, athletic fields and golf courses. The legend is that Bermuda grass was introduced to the United States in contaminated hay used as bedding by ships transporting slaves from Africa to the United States. Its popular name comes from Bermuda where it is a widely found, invasive grass. The term "common" Bermuda grass can refer to any of the numerous varieties of the grass.

Early history

While the African slave story may be speculative, Bermuda was known to have been imported to the United States from Africa by 1751. Bermuda grass spreads by horizontal underground shoots. In the 18th century, farmers in the Carolinas used it as forage, calling it "crop grass" or "crab grass." It was used for animal forage for decades, eventually being adapted into lawns and turf.

Use in golf courses

By the early 1900s, Bermuda grass was used as an alternative for sand greens then fashionable in golf courses. A golf course in Atlanta, Georgia, was using Bermuda grass in 1918. Its use in golf courses spread to Florida in the 1920s.

Burton's research

In the mid-1940s in Tifton, Georgia, Dr. Glenn Burton of the USDA propagated grass plugs from southern golf courses. He crossed a top golf course Bermuda grass with a disease-resistant pasture variety, releasing it in 1952 as "Tiflawn," a sod grass. The Tifton Experimental Station in Georgia eventually released several hybrids including Tiffine, used for lawn turf. Tifgreen, a dense-fine textured hybrid, was released in 1956; Tifgreen is used on many modern golf courses for putting greens and turf mowed to one-half an inch or less. Cultivars of Bermuda grass hybrids have continued to be developed for golf courses and other athletic fields.

As an annoyance

Bermuda grass is considered an aggressive weed by many. Farmers especially consider it an annoyance. It's hard to kill because of its deep rhizomes and because it produces a lot of seeds. It is commonly listed as among the three most troublesome weeds in corn, cotton, sugar cane and vineyards. It especially likes areas that gets plenty of rain or irrigation.

Beneficial uses

Varieties of Bermuda grass provide stability to ditch banks, airfields, roadsides, and other places where erosion control is important. It also provides a smooth, wear-resistant playing surface fir playgrounds and athletic fields. It is widely used as pasture and hay for livestock in subtropical and tropical areas. Cultivars are also used in parks, lawns and general purpose turf. Hybrid varieties have been developed for tennis courts and bowling greens.

Keywords: history of Bermuda grass, Bermuda grass origins, story of Bermuda grass

About this Author

Richard Hoyt, an internationally published author of 26 mysteries, thrillers and other novels, is a former reporter for Honolulu dailies and writer for "Newsweek" magazine. He taught nonfiction writing and journalism at the university level for 10 years. He holds a Ph.D. in American studies.