St. Augustine grass, or Stenotaphrum secundatum Kuntze, is Florida's most popular lawn grass, according to the University of Florida's IFAS Extension service. Growers and homeowners throughout the world have propagated this warm-weather turfgrass for two centuries, according to the Texas Cooperative Extension. Today, St. Augustine grass covers lawns throughout the Gulf Coast and California, as well as the Caribbean, Africa and Pacific island regions.
St. Augustine grass is a native plant of the Gulf of Mexico, the West Indies and western Africa, writes Richard F. Duble, turfgrass specialist for the Texas Cooperative Extension. Before 1800, explorers mentioned finding the grass along the Atlantic coasts in Africa, Hawaii and North and South America. Duble also reports that St. Augustine grass was found in Australia and New Zealand as early as 1840.
According to the University of Hawaii's Cooperative Extension Service, St. Augustine grass was introduced to the islands around 1816. St. Augustine grass showed up on Florida lawns in the 1890s and in California in the 1920s, according to Duble. Residents of the Natal coastal region of South Africa began planting St. Augustine grass as a lawn grass in 1900, followed by Rhodesia, the Congo and Senegal in Africa, as well as Australia and California. Some inland growers--usually near warm, coastal regions--have also planted St. Augustine grass for pastures and lawns.
Growers have developed various cultivars of St. Augustine grass since the 1930s, according to IFAS. They include a slow-growing "dwarf" cultivar called Amerishade that requires less frequent mowing. Another cultivar, Classic, can tolerate cold, making it a candidate for lawns in northern Florida and other cooler climates. In 1973, the University of Florida and Texas A&M University developed "Floratam," which is now the most popular St. Augustine grass cultivar in Florida.
Historically, growers have used vegetative means to propagate St. Augustine grass, according to Duble. These methods include the use of plugs, sod and stolons, or shoots, rather than seeds. According to the University of Hawaii, St. Augustine grass produces seeds only occasionally since the plant does not flower often.
In addition to its main use as a lawn grass, St. Augustine grass also has developed into a valuable source of forage for livestock, according to the University of Hawaii. In Hawaii and other tropical and subtropical regions, plantation and orchard growers have planted St. Augustine grass as cover crop for macadamia, banana, coffee and other crops. Growers also use the grass as "living sod" to help control weeds and improve soil.