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Publication #Circular 1440

New Plants for Florida: Forage1

Ken Quesenberry2

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Forage improvement research at the FAES traces to its earliest days – the first forage grass variety was released in 1892, and the first forage legume variety was released in 1896. By 1915, almost 1,700 plant introductions had been tested and evaluated as potential new varieties. Important early releases included Pangola digitgrass and Pensacola bahiagrass (1936), Argentine bahiagrass (1945), and Floranna sweetclover (1951). These early releases provided the grass and legume pasture base on which Florida's beef cattle industry developed after World War II. Private plant breeding companies remain reluctant to invest in forage breeding programs for the limited market areas in the southeastern U.S. Thus, FAES forage breeding programs will likely remain important for the livestock producers of Florida.

For more information about forage varieties, see:

SS AGR 97 The Florida Forage Handbook: Table of Contents.


The alfalfa breeding program at FAES was begun in 1950 by Earl Horner. Prior to his work, alfalfa was not well adapted to the environmental conditions of the Southeast and there were no varieties available. Horner's efforts lead to the release of Florida 66. Additional evaluation and selection lead to the release of Florida 77, which had superior yield and persistence compared to other commercial nondormant alfalfa varieties. Field selection for growth and vigor continued, with David Baltensperger and David Wofford assuming responsibility for the program after the 1987 retirement of Horner. After Baltensperger's departure in 1989, Wofford continued the selection and evaluation program. In 1996, Florida 99 was released, a variety with improved resistance to the spotted alfalfa aphid. Research on alfalfa has continued, with new germplasm sources being added to the breeding material to expand genetic diversity.

For more information about alfalfa varieties, see the following EDIS publications:

SS AGR 49 Winter Forage Legume Guide

SS AGR 73 Alfalfa and Cool-Season Forages

White Clover

In 1952, Earl Horner started a program to develop white clover varieties. Initially, he evaluated plants from commercial varieties, plant introduction lines, and local ecotypes under grass-sod field conditions in Gainesville. The primary selection criteria were persistence, vigor during the second year of growth, and flowering. By 1973, he had identified 35 genotypes that performed better than others for persistence, yield and flowering. These were intercrossed and tested with the assistance of Charles Dean. After several years of multiple location evaluations, the variety Osceola was released. This variety continues to be the most widely-sold white clover in the U.S. A nematode-tolerant version of Osceola will be released in 2003.

In the late 1980s, Baltensperger and Wofford began a selection program to develop a multifoliate clover (4-leaf type). After a few generations of crosses and selections, they released Legendary Good Luck white clover. Fifty percent of the individuals in this variety's population produce 4-leaf leaflets. Another attractive trait was the joint selection for a deep red leaf mark gene that enhances the visual appeal of the plants. Legendary Good Luck is currently marketed to the fashion jewelry industry.

For more information about white clover varieties, see the following EDIS publications:

SS AGR 49 Winter Forage Legume Guide

SS AGR 54 White Clover

SS AGR 73 Alfalfa and Cool-Season Forages

SS AGR 84 Fall Forage Update

Red Clover

Red clover has always shown good yields in forage evaluations in central and north Florida. In the 1980s, a program of breeding and selection focused on development of a nondormant variety with improved levels of root-knot nematode resistance. This program, directed by Ken Quesenberry, released the variety Cherokee in 1990 and in 2002 released an improved Cherokee type that is currently undergoing seed increase. Cherokee has had a significant impact on cool-season pasture production across the southeastern U.S.

For more information about red clover varieties, see:

SS AGR 40 Cherokee Red Clover

Grasses and Legumes

Several grasses and legumes indigenous to South America, Southeast Asia and Africa were introduced into Florida over the last century by FAES scientists. For example, in 1894, velvetbean, a native of India, came to Florida through the West Indies. Florida scientists discovered various velvetbean cultivars to be very good forage plants and acreage grew to 5 million acres in the South by 1914.

Bahiagrass is the dominant pasture grass used by the beef cattle industry in Florida. Pensacola Bahiagrass is estimated to be produced on 60 percent of Florida pastures. It was found growing wild near the ocean docks at Florida City by county agent E.H. Finlayson in 1943. Pensacola was officially entered into the National Plant Germplasm System in 1977 by the FAES.

In the 1970s and 80s, research on forage improvement increased statewide. FAES scientists at Gainesville, Ft. Pierce and Ona were actively involved in testing and evaluation of new plant introductions from around the world, and in the breeding and selection of new cultivars. Important forage legume cultivars generated from these efforts include Florida Carpon Desmodium, released by Al Kretschmer in 1979, and Florigraze rhizome peanut, released by Gordon Prine in 1981. Forage grass releases of significant impact in the 1980s were Florico and Florona stargrass, released in 1988 by Paul Mislevy, and Floralta limpograss, released in 1984 by Ken Quesenberry and a statewide team of cooperators. Currently, these three grasses are estimated to be grown on over 200,000 acres in Central and South Florida. They have shortened the winter forage deficit gap for beef cattle producers by as much as two months.

For more information about grass and legume varieties, see the following EDIS publications:

SS AGR 25 Tifton-9 Pensacola Bahiagrass

SS AGR 36 Bahiagrass

ENH6 Bahiagrass for Florida Lawns

SS AGR 48 Summer Forage Legume Guide

SS AGR 67 Floralta Limpograss (Hemarthria altissima)

SS AGR 62 Stargrass

Annual Ryegrass

Plant breeding of annual ryegrass began in the 1950s when T.E. Webb used mass selection to develop the annual ryegrass variety Florida Rust Resistant from local ecotypes, domestic varieties and plant introductions. Florida Rust Resistant was released by W.H. Chapman in 1962. In 1971, G.M. Prine discovered a seeding stand of annual ryegrass ecotype near Kinderlou, Georgia. Four cycles of recurrent mass selection from a population composed of Kinderlou, Florida Rust Resistant, Magnolia, Gulf and some unknown reseeding ecotypes at Gainesville, Florida, resulted in the release of Florida 80 annual ryegrass in 1982. The crown-rust-resistant variety Surrey was released in 1989 and became another important variety.

In recent years, the annual ryegrass breeding program, under the direction of G. M. Prine, has emphasized cooperative research between programs in Florida, Oregon and North Carolina. Crown rust resistance and adaptation to the Southeast was selected for in Florida. The Oregon plantings gave added disease resistance to stem rust and better seed production. Selections in North Carolina combined a cold-hardy, crown-rust-susceptible North Carolina Mountain ecotype with Floridas best crown-rust-resistant breeding population. This resulted in the variety Florlina, jointly released by FAES and NCSU.

The program cooperated with Ulf Feuerstein of Deutsche Saatveredelung in Germany to double the chromosomes of Surrey to produce a new tetraploid cultivar, Jumbo, which was released by FAES in 1997. The original Surrey cultivar was selected for two additional cycles to produce the variety Stampede in 1995. In 2001 and 2002, the annual ryegrass program focused on cooperative releases with commercial ryegrass seed companies, which resulted in the release of 10 new cultivars.

For more information about annual rygrass varieties, see:

SS AGR 88 Annual Ryegrass


Table 1. 

Forage varieties released by FAES.



Date of Release

Alfalfa Florida 66


  Florida 77


  Florida 99


Annual Ryegrass Florida Rust Resistant


  Florida 80




  Big Daddy






  Jumbo, Florlina


  King, Surrey II, Fantastic, Ed, Brigadier, Graze-N-Grow, Prine


  Beef Builder II, FL X 1997 4X late, FL X2001 4X LF midlate


Bahiagrass Pensacola




Bermudagrass Florakirk


Elephantgrass Mott


Blue Lupine Florida No. 1




Carpon desmodium Florida


Crimson clover Flame


Digitgrass Pangola


Hairy Indigo Early




Limpograss Floralta


Red clover Cherokee




Pangolagrass Pangolagrass


Paspalum Suerte Atra


Rhizoma peanut Florigraze




Stargrass McCaleb




  Florico, Florona


Sweetclover Floranna


Stylo Savanna


Velvetbean Florida


  Osceola, Alachua, Wahulla


White clover Osceola


White clover (4-leaf) Legendary Good Luck




This document is part of Circular 1440, a publication of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, the Agronomy Department and IFAS Communication Services, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date August 2003. Originally published as a booklet by IFAS Communication Services June 2003. Visit the EDIS website at


Ken Quesenberry, Professor, Agronomy Department. Circular 1440 is edited by Richard L. Jones, Mary L. Duryea, and Berry J. Treat, Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Richard L. Jones, Dean for Research, publishes this information to further programs and related activities, available to all persons regardless of race, color, age, sex, disability or national origin. Information about alternate formats is available from IFAS Communication Services, University of Florida, PO Box 110810, Gainesville, FL 32611-0810.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.