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How many species of grass are there?

Understanding different types of grass is important for you to know how to take care of the grass and keep it healthy.

There are a variety of grass species, but only a few are commonly grown on lawns.

Here we’ll discuss the various species of grass, their classification, and their characteristics.

Scientific classification of grass

Grass belongs to the Poaceae family. In total, about 11,000 grass species are known today in the world.

However, you don’t have to know the 11,000 grass species since most of them share characteristics and growing conditions.

Generally, about 12 common grass types grow in lawns in different seasons. But if you need to know more than those, this list of 20 types of grass should come in handy.

Where does grass come from?

Grasses are considered the most versatile plants, as they evolved around 55 million years ago.

Wild grasses are dominant in every habitat and continent, including Antarctica. Different species thrive in different continents according to the soil and climate conditions.

On the other hand, lawns are dated to the 16th and 17th centuries during the European Renaissance, as most grass is native to Europe and Asia.

A lawn with well manicured Zoysia grass
A lawn with well-manicured Zoysia grass

During this period, lawns were cultivated in wealthy households in France and England.

The practice quickly spread, was introduced to North America by European immigrants, and became popular in the late 19th century.

Why is grass important?

Grass is a versatile plant considered the world’s most important crop.

Different grass species offer many landscaping benefits, making a house’s lawn vibrant and lush. It also protects the grass from soil erosion and purifies our air.

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Additionally, grass serves as animal food and can be processed into forage food for livestock and humans.

Grass is usually grown as an ornamental plant or turf for lawns and fields. This is because they have green bladelike leaves and extensive fibrous root systems, which make them withstand outdoor activities.

8 common grass species for lawns

When starting a new lawn, you will want to choose the right type of grass that grows according to your household’s climate, soil, and yard conditions.

Here are the common types of grass plants that are suitable for your lawn according to their season affinity:

1. Bermuda grass

Bermuda grass
A lawn with Bermuda grass

Bermuda grass, whose scientific name is Cynodon dactylon, is a perennial grass that grows during warm seasons.

It is popular on golf courses and the best choice for front and back yards because of its dense and deep green color. The drawback of this grass plant also has high maintenance, as it requires to be watered frequently.

The key characteristics of the Bermuda grass include its grey-green bladelike leaves that are usually 2 or 15 cm long. Its stems are slightly flat and often purplish, while its roots are deep and can extend up to 2 meters deep.

Bermuda grass can be mowed routinely to a low height, allowing it to retain traffic tolerance. While at it, you must get rid of weeds in the grass to keep it looking great.

2. Fine fescue

Fine fescue
Fine fescue grass. Image: Flickr/millbornseeds

Fine fescue is a perennial grass genus that is standard turf and drought tolerant, suitable for warm and cool seasons.

The grass is shade tolerant and stays green all year, especially during cool seasons. It is also low maintenance as it requires little moisture and fertilizer.

The fine grass resembles tall fescue but has distinct features like greenish or reddish seedheads. Fine fescue’s leaves are smooth and slim, hence considered more highly than tall fescue for lawns.

It also has high traffic and drought tolerance and can remain healthy in full sun.

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3. Buffalo grass

Buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides)
Buffalo grass. Image: Flickr/Collin

Buffalo grass, whose scientific name is Bouteloua dactyloides, is a warm-season perennial grass that is drought, cold, and heat tolerant.

It is a native grass in North America and low-maintenance, hence common in lawns and golf courses.

Its key characteristics include foliage that is 5 to 13 meters high and flower stalks that are 10 to 20 centimeters tall.

It also has numerous dense roots and produces by rhizomes or stolons occasionally. 

4. Tall fescue

Tall fescue grass
Tall fescue grass. Image: Flickr/psupested

Tall fescue, scientifically called Festuca arundinacea, is a cool-season perennial grass species similar to fine fescue.

Despite not being popular as its fine cousin, it is tolerable to heat, therefore, recommended in northern and southern states. It is common on athletic fields and areas that have more high traffic and need heavy use.

The cool season grass species can grow between 2 to 4 feet in seed head stage. Its coarse dark green leaves are thick and wide, with prominent parallel veins running through the blade.

Tall fescue reproduces through seed transmission and tillering, which makes it unique to other grasses that reproduce through stolons or rhizomes.

5. Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)
Perennial Ryegrass. Image: Flickr/Tiggrx

The perennial ryegrass, also scientifically identified as Lolium perenne, is a low-growing turf grass grown on lawns combined with Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescue.

It grows well and is easily maintained in cool areas or during cold seasons.

Its key characteristics include smooth dark green leaves with parallel veins on the upper surface. The deep roots are arbuscular mycorrhizal, a symbiotic process between plants and the Glomeromycota fungi for water and nutrients.

6. Zoysia grass

Zoysia grass
Zoysia grass

Lawngrass, scientifically identified as zoysia, is a perennial warm-season turf grass with heat, cold, and high traffic tolerance.

The name lawngrass comes from its popularity and versatility as a lawn grass. It is also low maintenance as it doesn’t require frequent watering and fertilizers.

Zoysia has a green hue uniquely different from other grasses and is known to resist pests and diseases. It can also be used to choke out weeds.

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Zoysia has a deep root system that efficiently obtains water and nutrients. It thrives better in warmer and tropical regions compared to cold areas.

7. St. Augustine grass

St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum)
A St. Augustine lawn. Image: Flickr/Dũng Đỗ Hữu

Its scientific name is Stenotaphrum secundatum, a warm-season perennial turf grass commonly used on lawns, ranches, and pastures. This grass species is easy to control and maintain.

St. Augustine grass has dark green leaves with broad, flat blades with a coarse and delicate texture.

It also has large flat stems that are blue-green. It reproduces by stolons and forms a dense turf layer on the ground it grows.

St. Augustine grass is susceptible to weeds. However, you can get rid of them through the steps provided here.

8. Centipede grass

Centipede Grass
Centipede grass. Image by: Flickr/MJRGoblin

Centipede grass, whose scientific name is Eremochloa ophiuroides, is a warm-season perennial grass popular in lawns and fields.

The advantage of centipede grass is that it is low-maintenance and requires infrequent mowing. However, it has medium heat tolerance, poor drought, and traffic tolerance.

Its characteristics include medium to light green leaves that are coarse in texture. It also has short upright stems that grow between 3 to 5 inches high.

The plant’s roots are shallow, making it easy to uproot when considered a weed. But if you want a centipede grass lawn without weeds, consider these eradication methods.

Does grass have DNA?

Yes, grass has DNA in the chloroplast and is used to compare different grass species.

The development of genomic tools has aided in collecting large stretches of chloroplast DNA for research purposes.

Even though they are not closely related species, grass and other plant species may also pass genes during reproduction.

Comparison of chloroplast DNA is also used to study new mechanisms involved in the grass genome evolution. That’s why some grass species are closely related due to shared DNA.

An example is the fine and tall fescue grass from the same subfamily but with different leaf textures and heights.

What is the study of grass called?

The study of grass is called agrostology, and it involves the classification and identification of species of grass according to chloroplast DNA and characteristics.

Early studies involved studying the external morphology of plants, but recent and advanced studies involve cellular, historical, embryological, and physiologic studies on the grass species.