It is widely recognized with the introduction of Manhattan perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) in 1967, developed at Rutgers by Dr. Funk, initiated a new class of "turf type" ryegrasses. This development had a world wide impact for revolutionizing the value of perennial ryegrass for sports, fine turf, and lawn and landscape uses.
After the perennial ryegrass Manhattan was released a long term improvement program for "turf type" perennial ryegrasses was initiated at Rutgers. Over a forty year period the overall turf qualities of perennial ryegrass have been substantially improved. Rutgers varieties continue to be in great demand for turf use in North and South America, Europe, and Japan.
Dr. Funk developed techniques for hybridizing bluegrass (Poa pratensis), including the discovery that the largest number of crosses of these apomictic grasses results if the plants are pollinated as soon as the flowers open – at two or three AM. Rutgers hybrid bluegrass varieties have been recognized for improved performance and wide adaptability. The long term improvement program for hybridization of bluegrasses first developed by Dr. Funk is continuing under the direction of Dr. Meyer.
One of Dr. Meyer"s most recent developments has been breeding perennial ryegrass varieties for improved resistance to gray leaf spot (caused by Pyricularia grisea) and crown rust (caused by Puccinia coronata). Currently dozens of new Rutgers ryegrass varieties, displaying improved resistance to gray leaf spot, are now commercially available.
Pioneering the development of the "turf-type" tall fescue Dr. Funk released the variety "Rebel" in 1980. With commercial acceptance of the variety Rebel, for the first time, tall fescue produced a turf that provided turf qualities approaching the more attractive bluegrass.
The ongoing improvement of "turf-type" tall fescue after Rebel – thirty years – has produced new varieties with overall turf qualities substantially improved. Since the commercial release of Rebel tall fescue in 1980 over a hundred improved varieties have been develop from the Rutgers program. The breeding priorities for tall fescue include darker leaf color, fine leaf texture, greater turf density, lower mowing, and improved disease resistance.
Observations of the presence, effects of and incorporation of selected endophytes – known to provide beneficial effects on host plants including insect resistance - for enhancing the performance of perennial ryegrasses, slender creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra L. var. littoralis), strong creeping red fescue (Fescue rubra L. subsp. rubra) Chewings fescues (Festuca rubra L. subsp. fallax), hard fescues (Festuca brevipila) blue fescue (festuca glauca) and tall fescues (Festuca arundinacea). Through various breeding techniques beneficial endophytes have been incorporated into the seed of dozens of improved Rutgers turfgrass varieties. Use of endophyte enhanced seed will produce a turf displaying improved insect resistance (above ground feeding insects) and greater stress tolerance.
A long term improvement program was initiated in 1983 for Creeping bentgrass. Currently under the direction of Dr. Stacy Bonos research is ongoing to combine dollar spot resistance (caused by Sclerotinia homoeocarpa) with germplasm that contains resistance to other important diseases (brown patch disease caused by Rhizoctonia solani, copper spot caused by Gloeocercospora sorghi, and anthracnose caused by Colletotrichum cereale) in order to develop new varieties with multiple disease resistance. As a result of the Rutgers creeping bentgrass breeding program new high performance varieties, displaying improved disease resistance and turf qualities, are now in high demand for use on golf courses for seeding greens, tees, and fairways.
Texas bluegrass (Poa arachnifera), native to Texas and Oklahoma, is more tolerant of heat and drought stress than Kentucky bluegrasses. At Rutgers Texas x Kentucky bluegrass crosses have been made with extensive evaluations currently underway.