Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Carey, Jennifer H. 1995. Cynodon dactylon. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
NRCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name for Bermuda grass is Cynodon
dactylon (L.) Pers. (Poaceae) [28,31,40,41]. Two varieties are
Cynodon dactylon var. dactylon (L.) Pers.
Cynodon dactylon var. aridus Harlan & de Wet
Numerous cultivars have been developed. Many of the studies cited in
this report were conducted using Bermuda grass cultivars. The specific
cultivar name is only mentioned here if it is compared to another
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Bermuda grass, native to Africa, occurs throughout the world in tropical
to warm temperate climates between 45 degrees north and 45 degrees south
latitude . In the United States Bermuda grass is most common in the
subtropical regions from southern California east to the Gulf Coast and
southeastern states. It is adventive north to Washington, Idaho, Utah,
Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire
[25,28,31,41]. Populations occurring in cool temperate climates may be
winter hardy cultivars .
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
AL AZ AR CA CO CT DE FL GA HI
ID IL IN IA KS KY LA MD MA MI
MS MO NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC OH
OK OR PA RI SC TN TX UT VA WA
WV DC MEXICO VI PR GU
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
SAF COVER TYPES :
Bermuda grass probably occurs on suitable sites within most
SAF Cover Types that fall within its distribution.
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
203 Riparian woodland
409 Tall forb
717 Little bluestem-Indiangrass-Texas wintergrass
719 Mesquite-liveoak-seacoast bluestem
730 Sand shinnery oak
731 Cross timbers-Oklahoma
732 Cross timbers-Texas (little bluestem-post oak)
804 Tall fescue
807 Gulf Coast fresh marsh
808 Sand pine scrub
809 Mixed hardwood and pine
810 Longleaf pine-turkey oak hills
811 South Florida flatwoods
812 North Florida flatwoods
813 Cutthroat seeps
815 Upland hardwood hammocks
819 Freshwater marsh and ponds
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
In the southeastern United States, Bermuda grass occurs in pastures and
fields and in the understory of open woods, forests, orchards, and pine
(Pinus spp.) plantations. In Georgia it occurs in a 15-year fallow
field with blackberry (Rubus spp.), American plum (Prunus americana),
sassafras (Sassafras albidum), smooth sumac (Rhus glabra), and numerous
herbaceous plants . In South Carolina it occurs in an 8-year fallow
field dominated by broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus) and
paintbrush bluestem (A. ternarius) . Bermuda grass occurs with
slender woodoats (Chasmanthium laxum var. sessiliflorum) and big
bluestem (Andropogon gerardi var. gerardi) in the herbaceous layer of a
pine-oak (Quercus spp.) forest in eastern Texas .
In the southwestern United States, Bermuda grass occurs in riparian
areas and in grasslands adjacent to streams and marshes. It is a
frequently encountered understory grass in velvet mesquite (Prosopis
velutina) bosques . A mixed honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa
var. glandulosa)-saltcedar (Tamarix ramosissima)-Bermuda grass
association has replaced some native associations in the Rio Grande
floodplain in Big Bend National Park, Texas . On Santa Rosa Island,
California, Bermuda grass is a common understory plant in a riparian
woodland composed of black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa), arroyo
willow (Salix lasiolepis), and goosefoot (Chenopodium spp.) . In
the Sacramento River valley, California, Bermuda grass occurs in a
gravel bar thicket community dominated by sandbar willow (Salix exigua)
where the willow canopy is not dense .
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Bermuda grass is eaten by livestock . No information was found
discussing beneficial or detrimental effects of Bermuda grass on
Bermuda grass is highly preferred by cattle .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Bermuda grass has good forage value for cattle , and is acceptable
for sheep . Bermuda grass, sampled in September in Oklahoma,
contained 8.1 to 10.2 percent crude protein and was 41.6 to 44.4 percent
Nutritional contents (% dry matter) of Bermuda grass stems and leaves
sampled from the Edwards Plateau region of Texas are as follows :
phosphorus crude protein digestible organic matter
May 24 0.22% 12% 58%
June 28 0.21% 12% 56%
Crude protein was measured for four Bermuda grass cultivars in New
Mexico. Coastal Bermuda grass had the highest crude protein values:
5.5, 7.5, and 7.4 percent for July, August, and October, respectively.
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Bermuda grass is commonly used to revegetate lignite surface mine spoils
in the southeastern and Gulf Coast states [37,69,81]. It provides good
initial erosion control as well as high forage quality. However, its
use is limited because optimal establishment requires planting by sprig
rather than by seed. Seeding rates and sprig spacings are described
. Bermuda grass planted on uranium mine spoils should not be used
for forage because of potentially high plant selenium concentrations
Bermuda grass declines on mine spoils if not fertilized on a yearly
basis. It may be a good species for initial erosion control followed by
later replacement with lower maintenance plants [69,81]. Harris and
Zuberer  found that Bermuda grass production increased when grown
with subterranean clover (Trifolium subterranean) inoculated with
rhizobia (Rhizobium spp.). The clover grows during the winter months
and increases soil nitrogen which the Bermuda grass then utilizes during
the summer growing season .
Bermuda grass increases streambank substrate stability during floods; it
grows weel in sand and resists scouring . In Arizona riparian areas,
Bermuda grass enhanced postflood development of aquatic macrophyte
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Bermuda grass is used as a turf grass for lawns, athletic fields, and
golf courses [64,75,81].
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Bermuda grass is a widely planted turf, hay, and pasture grass in the
southern United States. Many cultivars have been developed for
increased drought resistance, cold hardiness, disease resistance, and
forage production. Quisenberry  reviewed the research conducted in
the southeastern United States relevant to the resistance of Bermuda
grass cultivars to insects and mites.
Bermuda grass requires regular fertilizing to maintain high yields and
turf quality. Bermuda grass pastures can be safely and adequately
fertilized with municipal sewage sludge .
Bermuda grass is considered a weed in corn, alfalfa, citrus, grape,
cotton, sugarcane, and other crops, as well as in landscaping and
nonBermuda grass lawns . Bermuda grass is a troublesome weed in
native plant restoration projects [1,35]. In Everglades National Park
in Florida, Bermuda grass primarily colonizes disturbed sites and is not
considered a threat to native vegetation . No information was found
concerning the ability of Bermuda grass to invade and outcompete
undisturbed native vegetation.
Bermuda grass is difficult to eradicate without herbicides. Numerous
herbicides have been tested on Bermuda grass and its various cultivars.
Herbicide application rates and effectiveness are described
[4,22,46,47,66]. Soil solarization is only partially effective at
killing Bermuda grass . The phytotoxins of several fungi which
utilize Bermuda grass have been isolated. Investigations of their
possible use as a control are ongoing .
Bermuda grass is widely used in timber pastures. Timber pastures are
usually fertilized annually. Bermuda grass is tolerant of competition
from a periodically thinned pine overstory. However, pine litter
restricts Bermuda grass reproduction by stolons. Use of prescribed
burning to enhance Bermuda grass by removing litter without damaging
young pines is described . Shade reduces Bermuda grass forage
yields, but as long as pines are small and spaced so that direct
sunlight reaches grass during a portion of each day, yields are
Bermuda grass is suspected of having allelopathic qualities [54,84]. It
inhibited the growth of newly planted peach (Prunus persica) .
Bermuda grass produces cyanogenic compounds .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Bermuda grass is an introduced, perennial, mat-forming, warm season
grass. It is both rhizomatous and stoloniferous. Erect or ascending
culms grow 0.3 to 1.3 feet (0.1-0.4 m) tall. The panicle has two to
seven digitate branches . Rhizomes are hard, scaly, and 0.06 to
0.13 inch (1.5-3.3 mm) in diameter. Stolons are flattened and several
feet long, rooting at nodes . Main root length per plant of four
cultivars ranged from 2.3 to 37.1 feet (0.7-11.3 m) while total root
length ranged from 43 to 4,854 feet (13.0-1,480 m). Root hairs
contributed 64 to 95 percent of the total root length .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Although Bermuda grass reproduces by seeds, it spreads most rapidly by
stolons and rhizomes. Both stolon and rhizome branching intensities
were reduced in response to lower light and lower nutrient levels.
Average stolon and rhizome internode and total lengths are reported
under differing light and nutrient conditions . In a study of six
Bermuda grass variants present in southern Africa, vegetative
reproduction was greater by rhizomes than by stolons .
Seeds, eaten by animals, are widely dispersed. Bermuda grass seeds
present in domestic sheep dung germinated in "large numbers" .
Fernald  stated that seeds are rarely perfect. Seed viability of
the six variants from southern Africa ranged from 0 to 3.5 percent .
Germination of viable seeds is low unless scarification occurs. Seeds
treated with sulfuric acid for 10 minutes had 68 percent germination
after 4 days, but untreated seeds had only 4.5 percent germination after
10 days . Prolonged exposure to acidic conditions decreases seed
germination. Bermuda grass seeds did not germinate in sulfuric acid
solutions of pH 3 or less. In pH 4 and 5 solutions, germination was
about 5 and 10 percent, respectively, after 12 days .
Bermuda grass seeds were present in intact soil/litter samples collected
for a germination study from an upland site in Arizona; seeds may have
come from an aerial seeding of an adjacent property. Equal amounts of
Bermuda grass seeds germinated in the control sample and in the
scarified soil surface treatment. No seeds germinated from soil samples
which had the litter manually removed or burned .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Although adaptable to most soil types, Bermuda grass grows best on
fertile, sandy to silty soils or alluvium [75,81].
Bermuda grass occurs in regions that receive more than 16 inches (410
mm) of rainfall a year. In areas with less rainfall, it requires a
surface source of water or irrigation . Bermuda grass is classified
as a facultative to facultative upland species . In the
southwestern United States, Bermuda grass occurs in irrigated areas and
along streambanks [40,85]. Bermuda grass can expand a short distance
into the upland by transferring water via stolons. In a laboratory
study, Bermuda grass plants in separate moist and dry-soil compartments
transferred water from one compartment to the other . In Organ Pipe
National Monument, Arizona, Bermuda grass occurs in damp areas but shows
no tendency to spread .
Bermuda grass has deep roots and is capable of extending roots during
drought stress. Ten cultivars distributed at least some roots 47 to 59
inches (120-150 cm) deep during a drought stress laboratory test. The
bulk of the root mass was within the top 24 inches (60 cm) .
Bermuda grass is susceptible to cold temperatures, especially those
occurring in the early winter. Anderson and others  studied the
freeze tolerance of six cultivars grown in containers and held
overnight at freezing temperatures. The temperature resulting in fifty
percent mortality ranged from 15 degrees Fahrenheit (-9.6 deg C) to 18
degrees Fahrenheit (-7.7 deg C) for the six cultivars . A winter
hardy cultivar survived three winters in Morgantown, West Virginia, even
though temperatures reached as low as -8 degrees Fahrenheit (-22 deg C)
Bermuda grass is generally tolerant of low soil pH and high salt
concentration. Six strains collected from southern Africa survived at
soil pH of 2.7 . Vogel  reported Bermuda grass growing in soil
with pH as low as 3.2. Bermuda grass dry matter yields were unaffected
by one growing season of irrigation with brackish water, but were
reduced in the second season . Although tolerant of salty soils
[75,81], Bermuda grass does not appear to occur in saltwater wetlands.
It occurs only in the freshwater vegetation type in the Louisiana
coastal region . Although common in the lower Sacramento River
valley, Bermuda grass does not occur in the tidal streambank community
In California Bermuda grass occurs below 2,950 feet (900 m) elevation
. In Colorado it occurs from 4,200 to 5,300 feet (1,280-1,620 m)
elevation . In Utah it occurs along waterways below 465 feet (1,525
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Bermuda grass is an early successional species. Shade reduces Bermuda
grass vigor, and complete canopy closure may eliminate Bermuda grass
. It inhabits open locations subject to frequent disturbances such
as grazing, flooding, and fire . After a major flood in March on
the Hassayampa River in Arizona, Bermuda grass cover increased to near
preflood levels by September . In a study of unreclaimed lignite
mines, Bermuda grass was most frequent on recently abandoned sites. It
was not present on sites 20 years old or older .
On the Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in southern Texas,
Rooseveltweed (Baccharis neglecta), buffel grass (Pennisetum ciliare),
and Bermuda grass were the dominant species after 5 years of old-field
succession. The two grasses may have inhibited the establishment of
other species by successfully competing for moisture and light .
In central Utah, Bermuda grass was present in young saltcedar
communities (age 2 to 3.1 years) but was absent from older communities,
possibly because saltcedar lowers the water table . Horton 
observed that spaces between individual saltcedar are usually dominated
by Bermuda grass or salt grass (Distichlis spicata) if the water table
is 5 feet (1.5 m) deep or less.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Bermuda grass begins growth late in the spring, continues to grow during
the hot summer months, and becomes dormant when the weather cools in the
fall . Near Bakersfield, California, Bermuda grass emerged when
soil temperatures at a depth of 2 inches (5 cm) reached 63 degrees
Fahrenheit (17 deg C) . In Morgantown, West Virginia, growth did
not begin until mid- to late May . Bermuda grass flowers from July
to October .
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
In its native Africa, Bermuda grass occurs in grassland communities that
regularly experience fire . In North America, Bermuda grass has
established in plant communities that experience fire such as grasslands
and pine and oak forests. Grassland fires tend to burn quickly,
consuming aboveground fuels but usually not heating the soil enough to
damage rootstocks . The ability of Bermuda grass to reproduce from
rhizomes probably enables it to survive most fires .
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil
Secondary colonizer - on-site seed
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fire top-kills Bermuda grass but rhizomes probably remain undamaged
except during severe fire that burns organic soil . Cultivars that
are strongly stoloniferous may be more damaged by fire than those that
are predominantly rhizomatous . Soil- or litter-stored Bermuda
grass seed did not germinate after litter was removed by fire; seeds may
have been destroyed by fire .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Bermuda grass productivity and cover have both increased and decreased
after early spring fires. Bermuda grass response depends on postfire
moisture conditions and nutrient levels [34,56,57,63].
Four treatments (fertilized, burned in early April, burned and
fertilized, and control) were applied to an Oklahoma grassland of
prairie threeawn (Aristida oligantha), Bermuda grass, little bluestem
(Schizachyrium scoparium), and paintbrush bluestem. Bermuda grass cover
increased significantly (P<0.05) over control levels with fertilization
and the burning-fertilizing combination, but increased only slightly
with burning alone. The burning-fertilizing treatment resulted in
slightly higher cover than the fertilized treatment .
A March 5 fire on a Georgia old field resulted in a decrease in Bermuda
grass yield. The control produced 14.7 grams per square meter and the
burned area produced 0.24 gram per square meter in the summer after the
fire. Bermuda grass was a minor species on the site . Postfire
moisture conditions were not reported.
No change was detected in Bermuda grass cover after a dormant season
fire in a mid-grass community in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania,
Spring burning stimulates seed production of Bermuda grass. In Georgia
Bermuda grass burned on March 29 produced 46 pounds of seeds per acre
compared to 16 pounds per acre on the unburned control. The following
year the site was burned on April 15, and Bermuda grass produced 29
pounds per acre on the burn compared to 3 pounds per acre on the control
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Early spring prescribed burning is regularly used in Bermuda grass
pastures to remove old stubble and manure, reduce insects and disease,
control woody sprouts, and reduce weeds [34,36,45,56,57,62]. Prescribed
burning of Bermuda grass may control leaf spot and stem blight caused by
Helminthosporium spiciferum and H. rostratum . Hamilton 
recommended burning only in years with sufficient soil moisture to
promote rapid postfire growth. However, in areas with high rainfall (30
to 40 inches [760-1,020 mm]) or where irrigation is available, burning
can be done on an annual basis . Pinkerton and Rice  reported
that some cultivars can be burned as often as needed with either
headfires or backfires. Burning should take place while plants are
still dormant. The recommended time is 1 week before the average date
of the last killing frost [34,56].
Average dry matter yield of Bermuda grass pasture burned March 1 in
Georgia was 832 pounds per acre (1,000 kg/ha) higher than yields of
unburned controls. Digestibility and crude protein content of the
Bermuda grass were not affected by burning. Because of an increase in
absorbed solar radiation, burning increased the soil temperatures at 1-,
2-, and 4-inch (2.5, 5, and 10 cm) depths for 2 to 3 weeks after
burning. Dry matter yields were positively related to soil
temperatures, but the relationship was subject to the modifying
influences of rainfall, air temperature, and soil fertility .
Morris  reported that burning Bermuda grass pastures had differing
effects on forage yields depending on fertilization levels. Yields
increased by 1,017 pounds per acre (1,140 kg/ha) after annual spring
burning followed by a high level of fertilization on a Georgia site, but
yields remained unchanged with medium and low levels of fertilization.
Burning reduced weeds regardless of fertilization level. Burning on
April 1 provided better weed control than burning on January 1 or March
The effects of fire on Bermuda grass yield vary among cultivars.
Pinkerton and Rice  investigated the effects of annual March
backfires and headfires on the yields of six Bermuda grass cultivars.
After 3 years of annual burning, yields of `Coastal,' `Common,'
`Brazos,' and `Tifton 44' were unaffected by either backfire or
headfire; `Tifton 78' was reduced by backfire only; and `Grazer' was
reduced by both backfire and headfire. Fire-related yield reductions
occurred during only the first two of the five yearly harvests. Yield
reductions appeared to be related to how stoloniferous the cultivar was,
with the more stoloniferous cultivars showing greater reductions,
particularly when burned with backfires which traveled more slowly than
Spring burning prior to urea application may decrease the amount of
gaseous ammonia lost when urea reacts with organic matter. In a Georgia
study Bermuda grass yields from fields burned and fertilized with urea
did not differ significantly from fields fertilized with ammonium
nitrate fertilizer .
SPECIES: Cynodon dactylon
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