Most people think of lawn mowing as a bothersome weekend chore. But have you ever stopped to actually think about the grass in your yard and how it got there? Many of the native grasses in Orlando, St. Augustine, Bermuda, and Bahia, are named after people and places that have influenced the city's rich and diverse past. Next time you mow the yard, think about the city's rich history and its connection to your yard. Chances are you'll feel more firmly rooted in place.
1838: Orlando Begins
While many towns on the Eastern seaboard began in the 1600s and 1700s, Orlando got a comparatively late start. Orlando emerged as a city in 1838, just as the Seminole Wars reached their height. The city was established by and for the US Army. The first structure built in Orlando was Fort Gatlin, which was constructed to protect the city's inhabitants from Native American attacks. By 1840, a small settlement had emerged around Fort Gatlin. This settlement, called Jernigan, is present-day Orlando. Its name was derived from the prominent Jernigan family, which was one of the primary families in the area. The settlement expanded, and by 1850 the first post office was established in Orlando. Although the Jernigan family had a significant influence on Orlando, the city was re-named (to Orlando) in 1857. The name change was made official by the US Post Office. By the time it received its current name, Orlando was home to 85 inhabitants.
Orlando's Blossoming Economy
Along with California, Florida is known for its citrus fruit production. While you can go to any grocery store, natural market, or roadside stand today and get fresh oranges, did you know that's been the case for hundreds of years? Orlando's growth brought a rapidly-growing economy primarily built around citrus fruit. Legend has it that the growth of the citrus industry began in the mid-late 1800s when the city government started a campaign to draw more Americans to the area. The campaign was accompanied by brochures, magazines, newsletters, and other materials advertising Orlando as a warm, fertile area with a mild climate. At the center of each brochure was an image of an orange tree. Those in landscaping, gardening, and lawn care services say it was that lone orange tree that brought people and plants to Florida in the coming years. It also gave rise to the concept of naming grasses, plants, flowers, and trees. That same orange tree inspired the name for the county in which Orlando was located, which was called Orange County.
How Florida's Grasses Got Their Names
When you learn about Florida's grass names, you'll make connections with the names of people and activities that made their mark on the area's local history. For instance, one of the hardiest and most popular grasses in the state is called St. Augustine. St. Augustine is a hardy, resilient grass with a beautiful blue-green color. There are several cultivars (varieties) of the St. Augustine variety. This grass thrives in the state's subtropical and tropical regions. It is named after the famous settlement of St. Augustine, which was established by a Spanish explorer and admiral named Pedro Menendez de Aviles. De Aviles had the Spanish government's permission to exploit and conquer all the surrounding areas, which he did. This turned the St. Augustine settlement from a small community to an expansive, formidable colony virtually overnight. If you have St. Augustine in your yard, you might notice a resemblance in the way that it quickly spreads. Strong, sturdy, and resilient, this grass can encroach upon others in your yard if left unchecked.
Another one of the most common grasses in Florida is Bermuda grass. This grass is slightly darker in color than St. Augustine. It has green hues, but it also has a fair amount of gray. As you might have guessed from the name, this grass is native to the island of Bermuda. It is one of the hardiest grasses grown in Florida, and across the Southeast in general. Bermuda grass is tough by nature. It's believed that its resiliency developed early on when its hardy seeds survived journeys on slave-bearing ships. They made it to their end destination embedded in bales of hay. With the arrival of each successive ship came more grass seeds. The seeds that survived quickly reproduced. It didn't take long for Florida's lawns and open areas to become populated with Bermuda grass.
Buffalo grass is indigenous to the Plains and parts of the Southeast. It is a combination of short grasses and prairie grasses, which means there are variations in size and coloration depending on where you live. This grass is taller than most Florida grasses. It is gray-green like Bermuda grass, but buffalo grass is distinguishable for its curly leaves, whereas Bermuda grass has straight stalks. Buffalo grass is said to have originated at the time that the first settlements appeared in the Midwest, West, and South. The grass's seeds got mixed in with housing materials used by early settlers. Eventually, the seeds took root in their local areas. Adaptable and versatile, buffalo grass flourished in Florida's warm and inviting climate.
Another common grass in Florida is bahiagrass. This grass historically thrived in fields, pastures, and open spaces. Now, it's a common addition to many yards, too. Bahiagrass didn't arrive in the United States until relatively late, around 1915 to 1920. Bahiagrass is native to South America. It was introduced by foot travelers and trade ships traveling by sea. Since the grass is tough and durable, it is a popular choice in creating resilient yards and landscapes that can tolerate hurricanes, flooding, and coastal erosion.
In the past, you have probably thought little, if nothing, of the grass in your yard. But there's actually quite a bit of history to Florida's grasses. In addition to learning something know, familiarizing yourself with the grass in your yard enables better yard care. If you need new grasses to plant, consider these hardy endemic species.