Queensland research team’s holy grail – Drought Resistant Turf in Australia

A Queensland research team is on a quest for the perfect Aussie turf – grass that grows with minimal water. Hopefully this will provide a new dimension
to Landscaping.

Online PR News – 03-February-2010 – – The 11-member team is two years into a four-year project to breed a turf grass in Australia that meets a list of criteria for “the perfect couch grass” and confident the first commercial product could be available in 2011.

The $3 million project is funded by Jimboomba Turf Group, a major south-east Queensland supplier; the Council of Mayors, an organisation representing nine south-east Queensland councils; the Australian Research Council; and Queensland Primary Industries & Fisheries.

Team leader is Dr Chris Lambrides, a senior research fellow in molecular plant breeding at the University of Queensland. He planted turf in his suburban Brisbane backyard and was disappointed the couch was not drought resistant. Given his research bent, it was logical for Dr Lambrides to lead the quest.

An initial funding request was knocked back but, with Jimboomba Turf Group’s financial support, a second attempt was successful.

Researchers began by searching Australia-wide for grass that grows well in arid conditions. They collected almost 1,000 samples of the genus Cynodon from far-flung parts of north Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory to suburban sportsfields and golf courses where grass demonstrated longevity and stress tolerance.

The plants are now being subjected to laboratory and field tests to determine which varieties need the least water to survive.

Jimboomba Turf Group managing director Lynn Davidson said that, apart from growing with minimal water, he had a long list of criteria the ideal turf grass should meet. It must be pest and disease resistant, retain its colour year-round and grow low, with less clipping yield, to reduce mowing costs. Deep roots will ensure the turf rolls easily when harvested and is suitable for sportsfields, domestic use, erosion prevention and commercial applications.

Dr Lambrides is aiming for an aesthetically and genetically improved plant – “grass by design”.

At UQ’s Gatton Campus, the grasses are grown in 1m-square plots and monitored daily. A range of measurements is taken on stem sections and root profile. Density, colour, leaf size and flowering traits are recorded.

An infrared thermometer is used to check the temperature. The hotter the canopy, the less water the plant is likely to lose, which is a positive.

Another experiment involves growing samples under an automated roof that detects rain and moves to cover the plants, ensuring they receive no rain at all.

Once suitable grasses are identified, samples will be grown at Jimboomba Turf Group’s farms to test harvestability and other commercial properties.

Mr Davidson says it’s the first time “this depth of real science” has backed turf species’ selection in growers’ attempts to develop an optimum grass for the world’s driest inhabited continent.

The former grazier says the project is not a gamble. “The incredible depth of science being invested means we’ll get a positive result that is likely to become the ideal grass for Australian conditions and export markets,” he said.

“The quality of science employed in developing this product will give landscape architects, project specifiers and local authorities a huge degree of confidence, knowing the product has the science behind it to fulfill the purpose.”

Mr Davidson said the project stakeholders were “deeply committed to producing a turf grass that will take the industry into a new environmental sphere. Turf grass, ‘the lungs of the earth’, will now do it better with less of that precious resource, water. Achieving that goal will propel this product onto the world stage”.

Mr Davidson chairs the turf growers’ peak body, Turf Producers Australia Ltd (TPAL), which oversees the $450 million-a-year industry, but he says none of the statutory levy collected from growers by TPAL for industry research is spent on the UQ-based project.


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