Submitted to: Crop Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 20, 2003
Publication Date: June 30, 2004
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Skinner, R.H., Kujawski, J., Van Der Griten, M. 2004. Virginia wildrye evaluated as a potential native cool-season forage grass in the Northeast USA. Crop Science. 44(4):1385-1390. Interpretive Summary: Introduced species, such as orchardgrass, account for nearly all of the highly productive forage grasses grown in the northeastern USA. Few, if any, native cool-season grasses have been evaluated for nutritive value or forage production in the northeastern USA. In this study, we evaluated several northeastern collections of Virginia wildrye for yield, persistence, and related morphological characteristics at multiple locations. Most wildrye accessions performed similarly to the commercially available cultivar and ecotype. Virginia wildrye was not as productive as orchardgrass with dry matter yields often less than one half of orchardgrass. The difference in productivity was mainly related to a reduced capacity for tillering in wildrye especially in regrowth. Virginia wildrye may be better suited for conservation plantings than forage when used in the northeastern USA.
Technical Abstract: Most forage grasses grown in the northeastern USA are introduced species. Interest in the use of native plant species for conservation and production in the USA has increased during recent years because of new federal policies for conservation plantings and other farm programs. Information is needed on the use of native cool-season grasses as forage and conservation plants. We evaluated northeastern collections of the native cool-season grass Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus L.) for yield and persistence. Thirteen accessions, one cultivar (Omaha wildrye), and one commercial ecotype of Virginia wildrye were transplanted into single-row field plots in August 2000 at Beltsville, MD and September 2000 at Rock Springs, PA, and Big Flats, NY. Two orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) cultivars were the checks. Yield and morphology (leaf width, length, mass, areas, and tillers per plant) data were collected during 2001 and 2002. Leaf morphology varied widely among accessions. Grasses performed better at Big Flats, NY where soils were deeper and the weather cooler and wetter than at other locations. The Elymus accessions generally produced as much dry matter per plant (28 to 57 g per plant) as the cultivar and commercial ecotype. Orchardgrass yielded more than twice as much dry matter per plant than all Elymus entries (94 g vs. 34 g per plant averaged for years and locations). The difference in productivity was mainly related to a reduced capacity for tillering in Elymus especially during regrowth. Yield per plant was strongly correlated (r = 0.62 to 0.81, P < 0.01) with the number of tillers per plant. Differences in productivity were also reflected in leaf traits with Elymus having a lower leaf area and mass than orchardgrass. Leaf traits were also positively correlated (r = 0.35 to 0.56, P < 0.05) with plant yield. Most of the northeastern Elymus accessions would probably perform as well as the commercial sources of Elymus in conservation plantings.