Submitted to: Crop Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: June 15, 2004
Publication Date: July 1, 2004
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Skinner, R.H., Van Der Grinten, M., Kujawski, J. 2004. Nutritive value of Virginia wildrye, a cool-season grass native to the Northeast USA. Crop Science. 44:1385-1390. Interpretive Summary: Virginia wildrye is a perennial cool-season grass native to the northeastern U.S. Greater interest in the use of native grasses has created a need for information on the suitability of locally adapted native plants for the northeast. In this research, we evaluated several northeastern populations of wildrye for their nutritive value as forage for cattle. The wildrye populations differed in nutritive value traits such as crude protein, fiber, and digestibility mainly because they also differed in their leaf-to-stem ratio. Wildrye populations with a higher leaf-to-stem ratio had higher forage nutritive value. At similar maturity stages, wildrye was comparable to orchardgrass in terms of crude protein levels and digestibility; however, our previous research showed that wildrye had low forage yields and lacked persistence. These traits would require improvement to make Virginia wildrye a practical species for forage production.
Technical Abstract: Interest in native plant species for conservation and production has increased because of new federal policies. We evaluated northeastern accessions of the native cool-season grass Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus L.) for nutritive value and its association with plant morphological traits. Thirteen accessions, one cultivar (Omaha), and one commercial ecotype of Elymus were transplanted into single-row field plots in late summer of 2000 at Beltsville, MD, Rock Springs, PA, and Big Flats, NY. Two orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) cultivars were included. Primary growth was harvested in April (Beltsville) or May (Rock Springs and Big Flats) of 2001 and 2002 and analyzed for neutral detergent fiber (NDF), crude protein (CP), and digestible NDF (dNDF). Nutritive value measures were related to plant morphological attributes [leaf width, length, area, and leaf-to-stem mass ratio (LSR)]. Virginia wildrye accessions differed (P < 0.01) in nutritive value and often had lower NDF and higher CP and dNDF than the PA ecotype, Omaha cultivar, and orchardgrass. The LSR accounted for most of the variation in nutritive value. Orchardgrass was more mature at harvest than Elymus entries and thus lower in nutritive value. Neutral detergent fiber was negatively correlated with LSR (r = -0.26 to -0.74, P < 0.05), whereas CP and dNDF were positively correlated (r = 0.36 to 0.80 for CP and 0.44 to 0.74 for dNDF, P < 0.05). Neutral detergent fiber was also positively correlated (r = 0.27 to 0.86, P < 0.05) with leaf length. Virginia wildrye is comparable to other cool-season grasses in nutritive value.