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Buffalo Lawn Care
A Short History Of Buffalo Turf
Where Did the Popular Shade Tolerant Turf Come From?
By Todd Layt
Buffalo has been used for lawns and pastures in Australia for over 180 years. The earliest recording of Buffalo being cultivated in Australia comes from the 1820’s, when Gregory Blaxland at Brush Farm House near Sydney was recorded as the first person to cultivate Buffalo (Stenotaphrum secundatum) in the colony. This work seems to predate the first recorded cultivation of Buffalo in the USA by almost 60 years. In the United States, Buffalo is known as St Augustine. The first officially recorded planting in the USA of St. Augustine grass for a lawn was on 11 November 1880, as a turf alongside an avenue at A. M. Reed’s Mulberry Grove plantation at Yukon, near Orange Park, Florida. However, there are reports of people using Charleston Grass, an old American name for Buffalo, back in the late 1600’s.
Buffalo is thought to originate from three main areas of the world, namely; the Americas, Africa and the Mediterranean. There are conflicting theories to the exact origin of Buffalo and the exact answer may never be truly known. I have my own theories as to where the ancestors of the currently grown Buffalo varieties in Australia originated from, which has research to back it up. (Hal Research). I believe the old common Sydney Buffalo, Shade Master, Sir Walter, Matilda, Kings Pride and Sapphire® turf came from ancestors that originated in Africa, whilst the Buffalos such as Palmetto® Buffalo, ST85, ST91, and ST26 came from the Caribbean or America.
Dr. Phil Busey from the University of Florida travelled extensively throughout the Caribbean and Africa studying Buffalo grasses. He proved that the St. Augustine family was split into two families (Diploid and Polyploidy Chromosome divisions). The grasses from Africa have 27+ Chromosomes and the grasses from the Caribbean have 2n=18 or Diploid traits. Some Buffalo varieties claim Australian origin; however this is only a marketing ploy, as there is no such thing as a Buffalo that is native to Australia. Sure, some varieties were bred in Australia, but they all came from overseas ancestry. I have bred Sapphire® Buffalo in Australia, but it is still an exotic turf, and not an Australian native. The origin, however, does not make the Buffalo, as there are good ones from America and Africa, and good ones that were bred in Australia and overseas.
Sydney Common Buffalo was very popular throughout most of the 20th century. Due to its scratchy leaf, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, this variety had almost disappeared from commercial production. In Melbourne, people commonly grew Buffalo turf from runners, but as the varieties were of poor quality, they fell out of favour in the second half of the 20th century. Today there are many new wonderful forms of Buffalo, all soft leaf except for one. Kings Pride, although not as scratchy as the Old Sydney Buffalo, in my opinion is still not as soft as the other types available. With all this choice, Buffalo has now become the turf of choice for domestic homes all over the mainland of Australia. The Buffalo revolution started in Sydney and New South Wales, and quickly spread to Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia. Victoria is now also accepting this variety as a major domestic lawn. Buffalo has many benefits that make it the domestic lawn of choice. Its ability to out compete weeds, non invasiveness to gardens compared to Couch and Kikuyu, less scalping, its general ease of maintenance, shade and sun tolerance, and now with the excellent winter colour of the better varieties, it is no wonder that Buffalo is now the lawn of choice for home lawns, amenity areas, parks and reserves.
There are big differences between the Buffalo varieties. Some are slow or moderate growing, while others are really fast growing. Some types have much better winter colour than others, some have finer texture and some are better with chemicals, to name just some of the differences. I have worked with most Buffalo varieties available in Australia for many years, and in fact I have most types growing for trial purposes around my house. Buffalo is now one of the largest selling turf forms in Australia, but they are not all the same and need to be compared.