A strange thing happened on the way toward settling North America. The cattle first brought to this continent centuries ago quickly eliminated native grass stands through overgrazing, leaving European settlers scrambling for transplanted grasses and clover.

Consequently, those pastureland grasses we typically assume are as American as apple pie — bermudagrass and Kentucky bluegrass, for example — aren't.

"We regularly plant 50 to 60 forage species, and hardly any of these are native grasses," says Don Ball, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System forage specialist and Auburn University professor of agronomy and soils.

Bermudagrass presumably first arrived in cattle feed brought over by Fernando de Soto. By the 19thcentury, it was being used as both a pasture grass and as a way to reduce soil erosion.

Likewise, Kentucky bluegrass is anything but Kentuckian. It grew in Europe and Africa before it was brought to North America by early settlers.

Now, after centuries, native grasses with names such as eastern gamagrass, switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem and Indiangrass are making a comeback.

A resounding comeback? No. But forage grass experts are nonetheless hopeful these native grasses will secure a respectable niche among more common transplanted grasses. In fact, some already are, Ball says — and for good reason.

"Take eastern gamagrass — it can potentially produce 6 to 8 tons of forage an acre each year," he says.

While it can be grown on many soil types, eastern gamagrass, typically planted as a pure stand, is especially well-suited to heavy soils or moist bottoms, he says.

Other native species are suited to a wide range of soils and sites throughout Alabama.