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Don't Know Much About Zoysia Grass? Read On

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

What's in a Name?

The term "zoysia grass" encompasses a particular collection of grasses that originated in the temperate locales of Asia. Zoysia grasses are warm season grasses native to China, Japan, and other parts of Southeast Asia. The species was named to commemorate an 18th century Austrian botanist, Karl von Zois (1756-1800), who was a "country gentleman" and plant collector. Do we still have "country gentlemen"?

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Illustrious History

Zoysia grass is the preferred grass in Asia, particularly in Japan. Zoysia grass has been grown as sod since 1100 Japan. According the earliest know gardening book from Japan, Sakuteiki, zoysia grass and its cultivation was important in Japanese gardens and tea ceremonies as early as the 12th century, perhaps earlier.

In Tokyo, the grounds of the Imperial Palace have been blanketed in zoysia grass since the 14th century. Zoysia grass grows wild throughout Japan, and it is one of the first species of plant to establish itself on volcanoes after eruption. Zoysia is also widely cultivated as turf and is used on most golf courses in Japan.

Coming to America

In 1911, zoysia matrella grass was introduced to U.S. shores from Manila by a U.S. botanist named C.V. Piper. This is, no doubt, why zoysia grass is also called Manila grass, Manila templegrass, and yerba de Manila. Piper found the grass abundant near the sea in the Philippines. He thought it would work well in the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of Florida, due to some similarities with the climate and topography of the Philippines. In the 1950's, the USDA released the first in a series of turfgrass cultivars and germplasm with improved disease resistance and stress tolerance. This included the Meyer and Belair zoysia grasses, and the first zoysia grass from seed.

Zoysia Grass Now

There are three types of common zoysia grasses found in the U.S.
  • Zoysia japonica
  • Zoysia matrella
  • Zoysia tenuifolia

In addition, there are several species and cultivars of zoysia grass used for home lawns. These include:

  • Japanese or Korean lawn grass
  • Meyer zoysia grass
  • Matrella zoysia grass/ Manila grass
  • Mascarenegrass
  • Emerald zoysia grass
  • Belaire zoysia grass
  • El Toro zoysia grass
  • Cashmere zoysia grass

Although these species and cultivars do vary somewhat in their appearance, color, growth rate, and texture, zoysia grasses are cross-compatible and can safely be considered as one species, zoysia grass, to those of us that aren't botanists and just want a good looking, warm season lawn.

Some Benefits of Zoysia Grass:

  • Holds up well to wear
  • Tolerant to various soil types
  • Saline tolerant
  • Requires less fertilizer than St. Augustine or Bermuda grass
  • Drought tolerant
  • Deep root system

Drawbacks of Zoysia Grass:

  • Slow rate of growth
  • Can't tolerate over-watering
  • Heavy thatch accumulation over time
  • Not good for cold weather


About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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