By Anna Gaw
Take a look around campus on any sunny day above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll see college kids sprinkled around the expansive swaths of Kentucky bluegrass playing frisbee, lounging, doing homework, hammocking, playing soccer, or fetching their dogs. The soft green monocots provide the perfect layer of vegetation, catering to Colorado College’s love of the outdoors.
Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is a member of the Poaceae family and is native to Europe and Asia. It was brought to North America by the Spanish Empire. Now, it makes up lawns for home landscaping, parks, golf courses, and college campuses.
I grew up with natural, rough backyards and always loved going to the park to picnic in the soft grass or roll down a hill. However, the more I learn about the environment, the more concerned I get with my own, and America’s adoration of lawns. I snap out of my enchantment when I think about the deeper side effects or maybe when my skin gets red and itchy after ignoring my allergies and giving in to lying in the grass.
Americans use billions of gallons of water per day on their lawns, according to a 2017 EPA statistic. With increasing frequency and intensity of droughts, water usage is becoming more and more of a critical issue to address. Colorado College boasts that its grass is watered with recycled water. According to CC’s 2019 State of Sustainability Report, the school has several programs in place to save water, including a central irrigation system, using non-potable water for the grounds, and planting native vegetation that needs less water. These initiatives are definitely a step in the right direction. But are they enough?
While water use is the main issue that comes to mind when considering the potential downfalls of lawns, the role lawns play in the ecosystem is also important to acknowledge. As their name suggests, Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) are a type of beetle from Japan. They are an invasive species in the U.S. and have spread from the East Coast to most states.
As I was confronting dozens of the shiny green beetles ravaging plants over the summer I was fascinated to find out that they lay eggs in grass. Getting rid of lawns could help address the problem of their invasion. Their larvae feed on the roots of grass in the spring. In the summer, there are hundreds of plants that make up the diet of Japanese beetles. Removing natural vegetation to install lawns can provide homes for deleterious invasive species as well as compromise homes of native wildlife. Additionally, fertilizers commonly used on lawns can cause harm to both the environment and human health.
Lawns have a certain pristine appeal — a sense of nature that so seamlessly fits into the structure of our communities. The carefully-cared-for quads make our gorgeous campus what it is. However, the soft, emerald carpet hides issues even bigger than the land it covers.