Game Day Botanicals

This Saturday marks a special holiday for Louisiana. It is the day that LSU football returns to Tiger Stadium. Sure, devout members of the Tiger Nation traveled to Houston last weekend for the first game of the season, and the rest of us watched intently as our team finally showed up near the end of the third quarter. But this weekend the Tigers come home. We LSU fans feel very strongly about our home turf. I’m sure many of my friends and family reading this already know what I mean. LSU opponents understand as well. For those of you still wondering what it’s all about, I highly recommend the video below. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.

I know you only come to this blog for the plant science. Well, I’m getting to that. I understand you may have been hypnotized by the eye of the tiger, bedazzled by the stadium lights, and flinched at the tackle shots. However, if you were paying close attention, you should have noticed the foundation of Death Valley- the green field itself. Today’s edition of holiday plants will explore the turfgrass of Tiger Stadium. It is as critical to our football traditions as it is to our winning game plans.

For Tiger Stadium, there is always excessive Celebration on the field. I’m not talking penalties though. The botanical MVP is named Celebration turfgrass, a Bermuda grass variety of Cyodon dactylon. This turfgrass has numerous characteristics that make it ideal for stadium coverage. It recovers well from damage, thrives in hot weather, withstands drought conditions and keeps its green color longer than other turfgrass options. It also establishes itself quickly, which is a necessity for Tiger Stadium since the turf must be completely replaced every year because of the damage done to the field during the Memorial Day weekend Bayou Country Superfest concert.* It’s not so much the drunken revelers in cowboy boots as it is the heavy stage, sound and light equipment in the middle of it all.

Having a fresh new carpet of Celebration turfgrass takes more work than you might imagine. The LSU Athletics Facilities and Grounds crew gets to work in June making sure the newly lain sod takes to its new home. Once football season is underway, the field must be presentation ready on a weekly basis. Check out the video below where Eric Fasbender describes the upkeep for the Celebration field at Tiger Stadium.

Another important feature of Celebration grass is its shade tolerance. This trait is critical for stadium grasses because of the shadows cast by the towering arena structures surrounding the field. Not every field boasts a mobile field surface that can be moved out into full sun.** Since Tiger Stadium boasts a new expansion of the south endzone to accommodate seating for more than 102,000 fans, the shadows cast onto the field must be taken seriously. I wonder if the Athletic Department would give me a grant to study the photosynthetic efficiency of the grass over the course of football season? I think they must have about the same amount of money as the NSF. Now, that gives me a new project idea for whenever those PhotosynQ guys send me that handheld fluorometer that collects data onto my smartphone.

The grass may generally be taken for granted by LSU fans, but it does have a special place in the overall mystique of Death Valley. A few years ago for April Fool’s Day, the LSU athletics department posted an article announcing that the surface would be changed to a purple synthetic turf material. This was met with a humorous uproar of righteous indignation at such a defamation of our beloved sports temple. Until of course, people looked at a calendar and realized it was just a joke. Plus, Les Miles eats blades of grass off of the field. Apparently Celebration turf tastes great.

The field can also serve as an autotrophic teammate. Our head coach isn’t the only one with magic tricks up his sleeves. The grounds crew knows just how to prep the field to create the conditions complementary to the type of game that will be most favorable for the purple and gold. They can make the field slow for a game that favors rushing or fast to highlight the speed of our wide receivers and defenders. Yes, they can do that. No, they will not tell you how. Those are secrets that just add to the difficulty of being an opponent in Death Valley.

So, as you are celebrating game day this Saturday, have some respect for the Celebration on the field.



*Superhero PhD has already given her opinion on this concert.

**LSU Althletic Department, please don’t get any ideas. I really don’t want to give up any more parking on campus, which may affect my hike to work.

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