– Dr. Kevin Kenworthy, UF/IFAS and Dr. Ambika Chandra, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, a member of the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS)
By the late 1960’s, things looked bleak for Texas sod producers. Lawns and sod fields were being ravaged by what was eventually identified as St. Augustine Decline (SAD), a viral disease first diagnosed in 1955 on switch grass in Kansas and by 1966, in St. Augustinegrass in Texas.
SAD-infected cultivars turned a mottled yellow, often followed by rapid decline, necrosis of blades and stolons, and eventually death. The virus spread easily via mowers and equipment and no effective treatments could be identified.
Researchers felt it likely that St. Augustine Decline would make its way to Florida, where the SAD-susceptible cultivars ‘Bitterblue’ and ‘Floratine’ were widely used. It became clear that identifying or developing resistant cultivars was critical.
Breeding a new turf cultivar can be a slow process, often taking a decade or more. Breeding programs can also be limited
in their ability to screen plants across a wide range of environments, which can add years to the evaluation process and may result in releases that are limited in their use across different geographic regions. But if institutions pool resources and material, the process is not only more robust, but can take significantly less time. This is exactly what occurred between the University of Florida and Texas A&M in response to the St. Augustine Decline crisis.
A massive screening effort of experimental lines of St. Augustinegrass from Florida and Texas was initiated in greenhouses in 1968, followed by field experiments in 1969. The most promising experimental lines were planted in SAD-affected lawns throughout Texas in 1970 and 1971.
A few of these lines remained free of SAD across all testing locations, including one which originated from a seedling developed in 1960 at the University of Florida. This seedling would eventually be released in 1973 as “Floratam”, which became the foundation of Florida’s sod and landscape industries and is still widely used almost 50 years later. (Read on to learn more about Floratam’s fate in Texas.)
The longevity of Floratam is an ongoing reminder that collaboration often equals success, and that positive thingshappen when producers work together for a common goal. This continues to be true in breeding improved turfgrasses for use across the southern United States, as collaborations are actively underway between TAMUS and UF. Continue Reading Here…