Native prairie grasses bred as colorful landscape plants, wildlife habitats

Posted on
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Carol Robacker and Melanie Harrison with bluestem grasses

Landscapers can soon add a bit of Georgia’s historical Piedmont and native prairies to their designs thanks to the creation of three new little bluestem perennial grasses, released through a University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnership.

Little bluestem grasses are native to North America and are a major component of the tallgrass prairie. They typically produce green to blue-green foliage. With names that conjure up thoughts of the ‘70s, the new little bluestem varieties are much more colorful than their traditional parents. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has a red-burgundy glow, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ has a lavender glow and ‘Good Vibrations’ is a mix of colors: red-purple with green-yellow foliage.

The idea to breed the colorful grasses came from USDA scientist Melanie Harrison. Harrison curates more than 500 different species of grasses and safely cold stores them in the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit facility on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia. Most of these grasses will never be grown in home landscapes, but their genes may be used to breed specific characteristics into new grass varieties.

Looking at little bluestems day after day, Harrison began to notice ornamental characteristics.

“My job is to conserve close to 500 different species of grasses, so there’s a lot of variety,” she said. “I thought they were pretty, but I’m not a plant breeder, so I asked Carol (Robacker) what she thought.”

Dr. Gary Pederson Receives Prestigious Award

Posted on
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Dr. Gary Pederson holding his AFGC Medallion Award

Dr. Gary Pederson was recently honored by the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) conference when he received the AFGC Medallion Dr. Gary PedersonAward. This prestigious award is the highest honor presented by AFGC for outstanding contributions in forages and grasslands. Dr. Pederson is the Research Leader and Coordinator of the USDA, ARS, Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit located at University of Georgia Griffin. He is the first Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist to receive this award in the past 25 years and only the fifth ARS scientist to be honored with the award.

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