Tufted hairgrass is a cool-season bunch grass adapted to cool climatic regions and environments that have adequate soil moisture (Davy, 1980; Hagerup, 1939). Recently, turfgrass breeders in the United States and Europe have initiated research on this species for use as a turfgrass (Brilman et al., 2000; Crossley et al., 2001; Morris, 2002; Watkins and Meyer, 2005). The species has performed adequately under conditions of reduced fertilizer inputs and can be used in shaded conditions (Brilman and Watkins, 2003). Tufted hairgrass performs well as a turfgrass during the spring; however, the species does not perform adequately during the summer in warm climates. Overall turfgrass quality of tufted hairgrass declines rapidly beginning in late June in New Jersey (pers. obs.) and continues to decline throughout the rest of the summer months. This susceptibility to summer stress prevents tufted hairgrass from being widely used as a turfgrass in the United States. Currently available cultivars of this species do not compare well in terms of overall, long-term turfgrass quality with other cool-season species commonly used in low-maintenance situations (Han et al., 2002).
Many factors may contribute to tufted hairgrass summer decline, including heat stress (HT) and drought stress (DS). Because this species is often found in nature growing in wetland habitats and areas that do not have high summer temperatures (Davy, 1980; Hagerup, 1939), tufted hairgrass may be sensitive to DS and HT. The detrimental effects of HT and DS are well-known in other cool-season turfgrass species, including kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) (Ervin and Koski, 1998; Jiang and Huang, 2000), perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) (Jiang and Huang, 2001; Minner et al., 1983; Wehner and Watschke, 1981), creeping bentgrass (Agrostis stolonifera L.) (Liu and Huang, 2000; Xu and Huang, 2001a), and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.) (Huang et al., 1998; Qian et al., 1997). However, the relative sensitivity or tolerance to DS or HT for tufted hairgrass is unknown. In Europe, tufted hairgrass is typically not found in areas with mean June temperatures higher than 20 °C, and species distribution does not appear to be related to rainfall differences, although it will not grow in arid regions with severe drought (Davy, 1980). When compared with tall fescue, tufted hairgrass seedlings were shown to have lower photochemical efficiency at high temperatures (Steiner et al., 2001).
Information about HT and DS tolerance in tufted hairgrass is important for germplasm improvement. Tufted hairgrass germplasm lines vary in their response to summer stress. It is difficult to distinguish between the effects of HT and DS in the field. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of DS and HT on tufted hairgrass. A secondary purpose of this study was to compare lines with varying field responses to summer stress to determine whether DS or HT had a greater contribution to observed differences in summer performance. Identifying factors associated with improved summer stress resistance in this species will aid in the development of superior tufted hairgrass germplasm.
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