Pastures at Buck Island Ranch consist of two main types, “improved” Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) pastures and “unimproved” or semi-native pastures. Improved pastures were established by removing native vegetation, tilling the soil and establishing exotic forage grass species through seeding or vegetatively. These pastures are usually fertilized annually (~50 lbs N per acre), are limed regularly, and mowed or chopped to control weeds as necessary. Semi-native pastures consist of a mixture of improved and native grasses, are never fertilized, are chopped every few years to control woody plant establishment, and burned to promote new growth and also to control woody species. Buck Island ranch is committed to maintaining its current native areas and concentrating more intensive management on the current improved pasture areas.
Improved pastures comprise about 44% of the ranch landscape. Most of the Bahia grass pastures have been established on the higher elevation, better drained soils of “Buck Island,” although some are established in lower lying areas. These improved pastures were established probably starting in the 1940s and continuing into the 1970s.
Other pastures grasses that were planted in the past include Pangola or Digitgrass (Digitaria eriantha), limpograss (Hemarthria altisimma), and torpedo grass (Panicum repens); these grasses persist to this day in some areas but Bahia grass is the dominant currently dominates in most of improved pastures. Bahia grass pasture are also used for sod production which provides an additional source of income, while keeping pastures in production for grazing.
Semi-native pasture occupy about 54% of the ranch landscape, mostly in the lower lying marsh areas. Some areas consist almost entirely of native species but other areas include native species and introduced forage grasses. In the 1970s, there was an effort to establish improved pasture grasses in several of the native areas. These areas are not maintained in an “improved” state, although the Bahia grass persists; so there is a gradation in the native pastures between truly native areas and “unimproved” pasture areas with Bahia grass. Semi-native pastures and wetland harbor many native species; common grasses include, field paspalum (Paspalum leave), bunch grasses such as broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus L.), bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus), and Panicum longifolium, and a variety of sedges (Cyperaceae spp.). Wetland areas include diverse assemblages of native wetland plants including maidencane (Panicum hemitomon) which is a high quality forage grass, beak sedge (Rhynchospora spp), watergrass (Luzioloa fluitans), sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) and a variety of herbaceous wetland species.