Dr. Jan Weijer
By 1990, after 17 years of research, the retired University of Alberta (U of A) plant geneticist
Dr. Jan Weijer had developed 17 "super" grasses for agricultural and domestic use. While grass is grass to most
homeowners, these hybrid strains were something different. They would grow to just 2 to 6 inches per summer1/6
of the pace of conventional varietiesand require neither water nor fertilizer.
Weijers research began in 1973, when he and U of A colleagues began the Parks Canada 12-year-long
Native Grass Project, designed to find ways of revegetating the industrially scarred land of high-altitude strip mining
operations. Hardy grasses from the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies were collected for the experimental test site
It was only later that Weijer saw an application beyond land reclamation projects.
"I have always known what we had," Weijer said, "although I have to admit in the beginning,
I wasnt sure what the utilization was. I didnt think of lawns at all. I had a fixed mind. Thats common in science,
because you have a goal. It didn't occur to me that these grasses were a value to the householder and the garden lover.
Then suddenly, I thought, Oh God. But we have known about these grasses for, I would say, 10 or 15 years."
The marketing of the grass developed into something of a patent war, given that Canadian laws at
the time would protect only the end products of "a manner of manufacture," thus leaving grass seed open to theft from
Nevertheless, in 1987, Weijer concluded a $7.7 million world rights deal with the Edmonton company
Texbeau Industrieswhich would change its name to Supergrass Inc.split between Weijer, his technician Barry Hill and
the U of A. Marketing was to begin in 1991.
The "super grass" never really left the ground,
commercially. The 1987 Edmonton tornado blew away many of Weijer's seeds,
heavy rains in 1989 and 1990 destroyed most of what remained, and Canadian patent problems continued, forcing Weijer
to seek patents in the U.S. and Europe. Ultimately, though, there was criticism that the grass did not perform as
advertised, and the company was unable to find a distributor. In August 1991, Supergrass Inc.now renamed Canadian
Star Industries Inc.took it off the market.
Weijer died in January of 2003, at the age of 78.
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