Texas A&M University kicks off its inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Saturday with the University of Florida Gators. While the teams battle it out on Kyle Field’s natural grass turf, for some horticulture enthusiasts it may bring to mind an historic academic collaboration between the two schools that led to the creation of one of the most widely used types of lawn grass in many parts of the world: Floratam.
Floratam, a combination of “Florida” and “Texas A&M,” is a variety of St. Augustine grass used mostly as residential lawn grass and is popular throughout the southern United States, the Caribbean, South America and other places that have warm, tropical and subtropical climates.
It was developed as a joint project between the two universities in 1972. In Texas, the research was conducted by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station, now known as Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
Floratam is one of the most drought-tolerant varieties of St. Augustine grass, a feature that has become increasingly important during recent drought conditions.
This type of grass is not used on sports fields or golf courses. It doesn’t do well in very cold temperatures or in environments that receive less than six hours of sunlight daily.
Floratam was originally developed to combat chinch bugs and the St. Augustine Decline (SAD) virus.
Chinch bugs are pesky critters that like to make lawns their dinner, by first sucking grass blades dry and then injecting poison that kills them. Unfortunately, over the years, Floratam’s resistance to chinch bugs has declined and the bugs are now a major pest, according to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) at the University of Florida.
Floratam does still resist the SAD virus, for which there is no chemical control. The SAD virus is widespread in Texas and has been reported in Louisiana and Arkansas, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. The virus weakens grass, leaving it more susceptible to other diseases or invaders such as Bermuda grass and weeds.
Whether it’s in Aggieland or Gatorville, Floratam is a popular choice for front and backyard lawns, and a highly successful example of breeding program efforts. Kept well-fertilized, this brainchild of Texas A&M and the University of Florida will make for a green and robust lawn for tossing around the football on Gameday.