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What Are Endophytes? And What Are They Doing in My Lawn?

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Every day we make choices. Some choices we make really don’t matter in the long run, like what color shirt we put on each day, what brand of toothpaste we use, or whether we pick the soup or salad. These kinds of decisions have little impact on ourselves and others around us. But some choices we make have very critical outcomes, like what we study in college or who we marry. Other choices we make benefit ourselves at the expense of others, such as the choice to rob, cheat and steal. Wise people make choices that not only benefit themselves, but are mutually beneficial to others. Examples of this include the simple transactions of daily business. We give money to someone for a service rendered, and both parties come away satisfied. To put it in a common saying, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” 

Plant Relationships

mistletoeYou’re probably thinking, “What does this have to do with grass?” Well, the plant kingdom is very similar to our human society. Within the plant kingdom can be found all kinds of individuals making choices every day. Some plants choose to live their lives trying their best to mind their own business. I’m sure you can think of that lone plant in your garden that is content to occupy its own little area, never trying to spread or crowd out its neighbors. In biology, this is called commensalism. This is where one plant benefits while others around it are unaffected. On the other hand, anyone who has ever dealt with weedy plants such as field bindweed, dandelions, or crabgrass will understand the comparison of these weeds to thieves, cheaters, and even murderers. Weeds don’t like to play by the rules. They are the outlaws of the plant kingdom, stealing nutrients from the soil, choking out other innocent plants, and robbing their victims of sunlight, moisture, and space. Some plants, such as mistletoe and dodder, even go so far as to tap into their victims and suck out their nutrients. This relationship is known as parasitical; one plant thrives while hurting other plants around it. But there can also be found in the plant kingdom a relationship called mutualism, where both plants interacting one with another are benefited. I like to think of these plants as the smart, wise plants. They are the decent folk of the plant world. 

The Benefits of Mutualism

perennial ryegrass trialsOne such mutualistic relationship can be found within our "turf-type" tall fescue lawn seed and a group of fungi called endophytes. Here at Nature’s Seed we get lots of questions about endophytes, their purpose, and if they are a good thing or something to be avoided. The truth is endophytes and lawn grasses enjoy a mutualistic relationship. The tall fescue provides a home and nutrients to the endophytes, while the endophytes provide the grass with better pest resistance, higher overall vigor, and greater root development. This improved root development increases drought tolerance and resistance to heavy traffic.  

Keep Endophytes Out of Pasture Grass

It is important to note that endophytes and grazing animals should not be mixed. Endophytes produce toxins that can be harmful to livestock. The tall fescue we use in our pasture grass blends is an endophyte-free variety. None of our pasture seed blends contain endophytes, ensuring that it is perfectly safe for cattle, horses, sheep, elk, and other grazing animals.

The plant kingdom, like our human societies, is full of shady characters that benefit at the expense of others. But let’s not forget the smart, wise members of plant and human life that strive each day to get along with their neighbors and treat others as they’d like to be treated.

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