Native lawns in Texas often display the fine, curly, blue-green leaves of Buffalo Grass, curly mesquite, grama and needlegrasses. Of these, Buffalo Grass produces the most uniform and attractive turf.
Buffalo Grass, Buchloe dactyloides, is a perennial grass native to the Great Plains from Montana to Mexico. In Texas, it is commonly found from South Texas to the Texas Panhandle; but is rarely found on the sandy soils in the eastern part of the state or in the high rainfall areas of southeast Texas. It is one of the grasses that supported the great herds of buffalo that roamed the Great Plains. Buffalo Grass also provided the sod from which early settlers built their houses.
Buffalo Grass is, perhaps, our only truly native turfgrass. Its tolerance to prolonged droughts and to extreme temperatures together with its seed producing characteristics enables Buffalo Grass to survive extreme environmental conditions. Overgrazing and, in the case of turf, over use or excessive traffic are the pressures that lead to the deterioration of a stand of Buffalo Grass.
Buffalo Grass spreads by surface runners, or stolons, and seed. It forms a fine textured, relatively thin turf with a soft blue-green color. It does not possess underground stems, or rhizomes. Buffalo Grass is also destroyed quite readily by cultivation. For these reasons, it can be readily removed from flower beds and gardens.
Buffalo Grass is a low growing, commonly only 8 to 10 inches high, warm season perennial grass. Individual leaf blades may reach 10 to 12 inches in length, but they fall over and give the turf a short appearance. Buffalo Grass has a stoloniferous growth habit, curly leaves, and both staminate and pistillate flowers. Staminate (male) plants have 2 to 3 flag-like, one-sided spikes on a seedstalk 4 to 6 inches high. Spikelets, usually 10, are 4 mm long in two rows on one side of the rachis.
Pistillate (female) plants appear very different from the staminate plants. Pistillate spikelets are in a short spike or head and included in the inflated sheaths of the upper leaves. The thickened rachis is woody and surrounded by the outer glumes. The glumes together with the lemma and palea form a bur-like enclosure for the mature seed.
Both male and female plants have stolons from several inches to several feet in length, internodes 2 to 3 inches long, and nodes with tufts of short leaves. Plants often take root at the node and produce new shoots. Each plant propagates vegetatively its own kind, and only rarely are both male and female flowers produced on the same plant. Commonly each kind of plant is found in patches some distance apart.
As Buffalo Grass and curly mesquite are both low growing, stononiferous grasses with curly leaves, some difficulty may be encountered in distinguishing them. If the grasses are not in flower, they can be identified by their nodes and internodes. Nodes of Buffalo Grassare smooth, and those of curly mesquite are villous. Also, the internodes of Buffalo Grass are quite short (less than 3 inches) while those of curly mesquite are quite long.
The production and utilization of Buffalo Grass is hampered by poor germination of the seed, or bur. It has been suggested that poor germination is due to the mechanical restraint imposed on the embryo by the tough enclosing outer glumes. The fact that seed extracted from the bur readily germinate is cited as evidence of inhibitor substances in the glumes that delay germination of the seed.
Buffalo Grass is found throughout the Great Plains from Mexico to Montana. In Texas, Buffalo Grass is commonly found from the south central region westward to El Paso and north to the High Plains and Rolling Plains. It favors the heavy clay soils in moderate to low rainfall areas. Buffalo Grass is rare in the sandy soils of east Texas and the high rainfall areas of southeast Texas.
Buffalo Grass is not adapted to shaded sites or to sites that receive heavy traffic. Also, under intensive management bermudagrass and other more aggressive grasses tend to replace Buffalo Grass in the lawn. Roadsides, school grounds, parks, open lawn areas, golf course roughs and cemeteries are good sites for Buffalo Grass in central, west and north Texas. Buffalo Grass is particularly well suited for sites to be planted to bluebonnets and other Texas wildflowers since it produces a relatively open, thin turf and requires little mowing. It is the ideal grass for those wanting a "native" landscape.