We all remember the story of Spiderman. A boy gets bitten by a radioactive spider, transforming and infusing within him superhuman strength and spider-like abilities. He’s able to do things normal humans could never achieve. I love the story of Spiderman. Who hasn’t fantasized about the possibilities of becoming superhuman, powerful, and able to shoot web out of your hands? Although this example is a work of fiction, and human symbiosis with spiders is, sadly, out of our reach, that’s not to say that symbiosis within other life forms, such as turfgrass and fungi, is impossible.
What if there was a way to infuse our golf course turfgrass with super powers? What if we could provide our turfgrass with better pest resistance, higher overall vigor, brilliant color, and greater root development? Well, we can. Within the last decade our knowledge about endophytes has expanded. Endophytes are bacteria and fungi that make their home among the living cells of other plants. The endophytes and the turfgrass enjoy a mutualistic relationship, where both the fungi and the turfgrass benefit from each other. With this greater understanding, much has been discovered about the benefits of turfgrass enhanced by endophytes.
We know that a grass with endophyte activity is more vigorous than a grass without endophyte enhancement, allowing for longer periods of drought tolerance and reduced fertilizer applications. We also know that endophyte activity stimulates root growth, which in turn increases tolerance to foot and golf cart traffic while at the same time filling in divots and repairing damaged areas faster. Turfgrass color seems to be affected by this mutualistic relationship as well.
Grass infected with endophyte activity has a darker, more brilliant color than other grasses without endophytes. How the endophytes are able to provide these benefits to the turfgrass is still being researched.
Interestingly, the benefits of endophytes in human medicine are just now becoming fully realized. The world’s first billion-dollar anti-cancer drug, Taxol, is a product of endophytic microbes. The antifungal, antioxidant, and antibiotic attributes of endophytes are very intriguing to the medical world, and it would not be surprising to see more medicines developed in the near future.
At Naturesfinestseed.com, we have embraced this mutualistic relationship between endophytes and turfgrass, and have developed seed blends that include these grass helpers. Our ‘turf-type’ Tall Fescue seed blends all contain endophyte activity. Currently this is the only species of grass that is endophyte-enhanced. The Tall Fescue provides a home and nutrients to the endophytes, while the endophytes provide the turf with the “supergrass” attributes of pest and drought resistance, vigor, color, and root growth.
In addition to the naturally occurring endophytes found in our Tall Fescue blends, all our seed blends are coated with what we call “Soil-Boost™”. Soil-Boost™ is a special type of fungus that occurs naturally in soil, attaching to the roots of your turfgrass to create a mutualistic relationship. Soil-Boost™ increases water and nutrient absorption, provides disease and toxicity resistance, and increases ability to grow in poor soil conditions.
It is very important to note that, despite the numerous benefits endophytes have on turfgrass,
endophytes and grazing animals should never be mixed. Allowing animals to graze on grass infected with endophyte activity can cause adverse reactions and health problems, due to toxins produced by the endophytes. The Tall Fescue we use in our pasture grass blends is a variety known as ‘Fawn’, which is endophyte free. None of our pasture seed blends contain endophytes, ensuring that it is perfectly safe for cattle, horses, sheep, elk, and other grazing animals. If you are worried about animals grazing on your golf course, a seed blend that does not contain ‘turf-type’ Tall Fescue is recommended. Also, for golf courses located next to rangeland, it would be a good idea to consider the risks of contamination from endophyte-enhanced turfgrass creeping into rangeland grasses.
So while we may never be able to achieve the superhuman powers Spiderman enjoys, at least now we can live out our superhero fantasies vicariously through our turfgrass. Thank you endophytes!