Identification and History of Bitterblue St. Augustine
by Phil Busey, PhD, CCA, CPAg – Phil Busey Agronomy Consulting
After discovery of damage to Floratam St. Augustinegrass by SCMV (Sugarcane Mosaic Virus) there is renewed interest in the older cultivar Bitterblue St. Augustinegrass. Both cultivars have long been used in Florida lawns. Plant pathologists believe that Bitterblue and other cultivars may be resistant to SCMV.
A few days ago, I read that there is “no description” of Bitterblue. That is not accurate because I have published research specifically to identify Bitterblue, Floratam, and other St. Augustines. Therefore, this page describes how to identify Floratam and Bitterblue. I also report the earliest use of Bitterblue according to Florida sod producers from the 1930s.
There is considerable overlap of vegetative measurements for leaves and stolons. Nevertheless, Floratam can be distinguished from Bitterblue 93% of the time by the leaf collar which is pinkish on Floratam and yellowish-white on Bitterblue (Busey, 1986).
Floral region length of Floratam averages 111 mm which is significantly longer than Bitterblue at 71 mm. This gives seedheads of Bitterblue a more condensed appearance. Spikelet length of Floratam is 5.6 mm on average, significantly larger than Bitterblue at 4.8 mm. The length of the mature spikelet is an excellent way to distinguish Floratam and Bitterblue. According to a key to cultivars, 5.2 mm is an effective line of separation between Floratam and other cultivars (Busey, 1986).
Market for Sod
By 1931, Roselawn St. Augustinegrass was being used by Dr. John G. DuPuis at the Roselawn Farm of the White Belt Dairy in Miami (Allen and Kidder, 1971). Bitterblue was recognized in 1934 or 1935 by sod producers in Davie, Florida, as a blue-green grass, with denser growth, finer textural appearance, and shorter internodes than the regular St. Augustine, sometimes known as Florida Common, which was similar to Roselawn
During the depths of the Great Depression, Palm Beach and Miami Beach presented a market for sod from pastures, sometimes cut while cattle were still grazing. Sod was cross-cut by pulling, by mule or tractor, a frame with 4 or 5 disk coulters. The resulting, marked 1 foot x 1 foot squares were dug by hand with a shovel or scooped instrument called an “idiot spoon.” The sod was pitchforked onto small, 1.5-ton trucks, driven over bad roads, and sold to rich people for 2-3 cents per square foot (R. R. Hammer and Jack J. Kirkland, personal communications).
The most contemporaneous, first-hand account of Bitterblue origin was by Ralph Hammer, that sprigs of Bitterblue were obtained from Pompano Beach but may have had a Fort Myers connection.