Prairie junegrass or junegrass (Koeleria macrantha), a cool-season, perennial, short-grass prairie species, is native to North America (Robertson, 1974). It possesses many characteristics ideal for low-maintenance turfgrass use such as a slow vertical growth rate (Dixon, 2000; Soovali and Bender, 2006), moderate drought tolerance (McKernan et al., 2001), and adaptation to dry and sandy soil (Pammell et al., 1901–1904). Mintenko et al. (2002) evaluated 28 native grasses, including an improved turf-type prairie junegrass (‘Barkoel’) from Europe and three prairie junegrass populations collected from Alberta, Iran, and Minnesota. ‘Barkoel’ junegrass yielded some of the highest quality ratings and the populations from Alberta and Minnesota were among the grasses with the earliest spring green-up in the study. Clark and Watkins (2010b) reported that 30 of 48 prairie junegrass accessions provided adequate turf quality (5.0 or greater) after a 3-year mowed spaced plant field evaluation under low-input conditions in St. Paul, MN. Furthermore, prairie junegrass has the potential to produce sufficient seeds to be economically available for the turf industry (Clark and Watkins, 2010a), a major limiting factor causing reduced application of buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides), another native grass with similar ideal characteristics of xeriscaphytic turf (Riordan and Browning, 2003).
Low-input turfgrass must meet visual and functional requirement under minimum care. Salinity is a major stress that reduces turf appearance and inhibits plant growth in the Great Plains. For instance, high soil sodium and salinity affects 1,900,000 and 700,000 acres of land in North Dakota, respectively (Seelig, 2000). One of the most common methods to address salt damage is use of species and cultivars that exhibit salinity tolerance. Mintenko and Smith (2001) reported prairie junegrass was tolerant to moderate soil salinity levels (4 to 8 dS·m−1) at maturity but more sensitive to salinity during germination; however, ‘Barkoel’ was the only cultivar evaluated in their study. Large variations have been reported in the characteristics of seed production and turf quality in prairie junegrass germplasm (Clark and Watkins, 2010a, 2010b). Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate relative salinity tolerance of four native prairie junegrass populations (Colorado, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota) along with the European cvs. Barleria and Barkoel and then compare their performance with several commonly used cool-season turfgrass species. These results can then be used by turfgrass breeders in germplasm improvement programs aimed at developing salt-tolerant low-input turfgrass cultivars.
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