There was a new attendee at this year's Mississippi State University Turfgrass Research Field Day.
That's where, on Sept. 22, turf breeders from MSU released the first hybrid Bermudagrass out of the Celebration X breeding program. Celebration Hybrid is a result of cross-pollinating Celebration Bermudagrass with numerous other Bermudagrass genotypes collected and maintained over the years at MSU for the explicit purpose of creating new lines that are more cold tolerant, have finer texture and produce less thatch.
The Celebration X breeding program started in 2014 as a partnership between Mississippi State and Sod Solutions, a Mount Pleasant, South Carolina turfgrass research, development and marketing company.
"I first evaluated Celebration Bermudagrass while visiting Australia in the late 90s," said Tobey Wagner, Sod Solutions president. "Since then, Celebration has proven itself time and time again as a beautiful, aggressive and drought-resistant grass.
"Over the past eight years, the team at Mississippi State has done an outstanding job on the research and development of these new cultivars. Congratulations to former MSU breeder Wayne Philley and everyone involved in the release of this new grass."
Celebration's resistance to drought and shade made it a good choice for developing the next hybrid Bermudagrass for golf, sports turf, and the residential and commercial markets.
Philley spearheaded the research and evaluation of this project and believes Celebration Hybrid is an appropriate name for MSB-1017.
Philley, a former research associate in the MSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, considers Celebration to be a unique Bermudagrass cultivar, and as a turfgrass evaluator and breeder he's been observing the performance of the grass in university research plots as well as sod production fields since its release more than 20 years ago.
"Celebration establishes rapidly to form a high-density, full-canopy turf over a range of mowing heights," Philley said.
"From a breeding perspective, I became even more interested in Celebration because of its taxonomic designation and genetics (Cynodon dactylon). This means that Celebration is a tetraploid plant with 36 chromosomes.
"This also implied that Celebration may be a fertile plant that could be used as a parent in a breeding program. Most bermudagrass cultivars that are vegetatively propagated and marketed as sod are triploid (27 chromosomes). These triploid bermudagrasses are sterile and cannot be used in a conventional breeding program."
Philley explained their goal was to reduce the number of seedheads in Celebration, which are considered undesirable and disrupt the uniformity of the turf surface. Also, the leaf texture of Celebration is coarser (wider) than some widely used cultivars. Celebration Hybrid (MSB-1017) is a fine-leafed, sterile triploid bermudagrass.
Celebration Hybrid was tested in three trials at Mississippi State against 83 sister or related plants including Celebration. Celebration Hybrid ranked at or near the top in all three trials for each of the numerous performance traits evaluated.
From these three MSU trials, five Celebration X progeny were chosen to be entered into the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program's 2019 National Bermudagrass Test. This is a five-year trial being conducted at universities across the country.
Experimental varieties are evaluated along with commercial varieties. Progress reports for 2020 and 2021 have ranked MSB-1017 at or near the top for fine leaf texture each year when averaged across all sites that reported this trait. Likewise, these progress reports revealed that MSB-1017 is shown to produce very few seedheads compared to all other varieties when averaged across sites in both years.
"The Celebration X breeding program has required a tremendous amount of effort from many people," Philley said. "It has been a pleasurable and rewarding experience for me. I give God all the credit for the success of this program. When doing conventional breeding that involves sexual reproduction of plants for single genotype selection, one can never be certain of the outcome. God is in control. It is my hope that we captured improved traits in Celebration Hybrid without losing any of the good traits of Celebration. Many attractive, but diverse, genotypes resulted from this breeding project. Much effort has gone into evaluating them. I am confident that Celebration Hybrid is one of the best of the entire group and I hope that it can be utilized by the turf industry throughout its zone of adaptation."
Celebration Hybrid has been planted in several real-world test applications throughout the Southeast, including three golf courses in Florida: Country Club of Florida in Boynton Beach, Royal Poinciana Golf Club in Naples and On Top of the World GC in Ocala. Several sod farms in Florida have been trialing the grass ahead of its release. Star Farms in Sebring planted Celebration Hybrid plugs in 10,000-square-foot plots in June 2021 before expanding by 3 acres in June 2022. Quality Turf in Avon Park planted sprigs of Celebration Hybrid as a foundation block in May 2022 on a three-quarter-acre plot.
Celebration Hybrid is the initial release from the Celebration X Program with more to be released next year. Celebration Hybrid will be exclusively licensed through Sod Solutions for commercial production and marketing.
Celebration Hybrid will have limited commercial availability by late Summer 2024.