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Powerful Plants Meet Tough Tanks

Maybe you know of a playground where there are some bare spots in the grass. The cause of this is wear and tear from many feet—maybe even yours. The same thing can happen at military bases. Huge, heavy vehicles like tanks can crush and mash plants.

Very strong pieces of steel linked together make up tank tracks. These tracks pull the tank forward by digging into the ground. The big rubber tires of other military vehicles give plants a beating, too. Now, scientists who know a lot about plants are trying to help the military's range keepers.

The scientists, with the ARS in Logan, Utah, and with the U.S. Army, do experiments to find plants strong enough to survive all of the traffic. The scientists do the experiments at military bases to make sure these special plants can withstand the mashing, crushing, and shredding.

These new, "tank-tough" plants form tough roots that help keep the soil in place. Some roots grow down into the soil. Others spread out sideways. All of these roots help prevent erosion. Erosion is what happens when wind, rain or melting snow takes away soil from the top of the ground. That's the best soil. When it's gone, plants have a harder time growing in the soil that's left. One type of plant being tested is called "RoadCrest" crested wheatgrass.

In their experiments, the scientists are mixing RoadCrest with seeds of plants like love-grass, slender wheatgrass and Indian ricegrass. If the experiment succeeds, the scientists will be able to give military range keepers a seed mix for repairing busy rangelands.

- By Marcia Wood, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff.

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