Use this native grass at home and
feel the connection to this iconic
Until the late 1800s, bison roamed the Great Plains in large herds that numbered in the thousands or tens of thousands, moving from place to place as the seasons and grazing conditions changed. What did North America’s largest terrestrial animal eat while roaming the continent’s largest biome?
Buffalograss, of course.
Bouteloua dactuloides is a low-growing perennial shortgrass native to the Great Plains ranging from Montana to Mexico. In Texas, it favors the heavy clay soils in low- to moderate-rainfall areas from the Panhandle to South Texas; it’s not typically found in the sandy soils of East Texas or the high-rainfall areas of Southeast Texas.
The thin, bluish green blades grow about 4 to 6 inches tall and require little water, making them an excellent low-maintenance native turfgrass. This makes its use ideal for roadsides, school grounds, golf course roughs and homeowners wanting a water-conscious landscape.
Early Texas settlers, unable to transport building materials, utilized swaths of the densely rooted sod to build their first homes on the plains.
Like the American bison that fed on it for over 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age, buffalograss is hardy and well-adapted. Tallgrasses found in other prairie environments can’t survive in the extreme and unpredictable conditions of the Southern Plains where shortgrasses predominate.
Buffalograss maintains a dense root structure close to the surface of soil. This allows it to survive arid climates by keeping a majority of its biomass underground while taking advantage of the bursts of rain that occur in summer by soaking up moisture before it’s lost to runoff. It responds to drought and extreme temperatures by turning brown, curling up and going dormant.
Shortgrasses and bison adapted not only to arid conditions but also to each other. Shortgrasses offer high proportions of protein in relation to carbohydrates, a ratio favored by bison. The bison’s presence benefited shortgrass as well. Bison droppings fertilized the soil, and their grazing promoted new growth.
When exposed to too much precipitation, buffalograss is pushed out by competition from taller grasses and weeds. Further deterioration can be caused by excess use or high traffic and overgrazing.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Wildscapes Program recommends buffalograss as a beautiful, native and water-thrifty alternative to traditional landscaping turfs. And it can be your own connection to this iconic animal of the plains.
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