Submitted to: Eastern Native Grass Symposium
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/25/2003
Publication Date: 10/20/2004
Citation: Sanderson, M.A., Skinner, R.H., Kujawski, J., Vandergrinten, M. 2004. Virginia wildrye and eastern bottlebrush grass as potential native cool-season forage grasses in the northeast usa. Eastern Native Grass Symposium. 3:285-289. Interpretive Summary: Nearly all of the highly productive forage grasses used in the northeastern USA are introduced species. Few, if any, native cool-season grasses have been evaluated for nutritive value or forage production in the northeastern U.S. We evaluated several northeastern collections of Virginia wildrye and eastern bottlebrush grass at three locations in the northeast for yield, persistence, and nutritive value. Eastern bottlebrush grass performed poorly in Pennsylvania and did not survive after the first harvest in 2001. Many dead plants were observed in the spring and most of the surviving plants had only a few roots. Plant death appeared to be caused by an insect tentatively identified as a Sphenophorus spp, which feeds on turfgrasses. There were few significant differences in digestibility among the wildrye accessions. Most of the differences in digestibility among accessions were caused by variations in the leaf-to-stem ratio. These results indicate that Eastern bottlebrush grass probably is not suited as a forage grass in the northeastern U.S. There are promising accessions of Virginia wildrye; however, final evaluations have not been completed.
Technical Abstract: Most forage grasses used in the northeastern USA are introduced species. Our objective was to evaluate northeastern collections of the native cool-season grasses Virginia wildrye (Elymus virginicus L.) and Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix var. hystrix L.) for yield, persistence, and nutritive value. Sixteen accessions, one cultivar, and one commercial ecotype of wildrye and 13 accessions and one commercial ecotype of bottlebrush grass were transplanted into single-row field plots during summer of 2000 at Beltsville, MD, Rock Springs, PA, and Big Flats, NY. Two orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.) cultivars were the checks. Yield and morphology (leaf width, length, mass; tiller density; plant height) data were collected during 2001 and 2002. Leaf morphology varied widely among accessions of both species. Yields of wildrye ranged from 8 to 57 g of dry matter per plant in 2001 among locations, whereas yields of bottlebrush grass ranged from 4 to 40 g. Orchardgrass yielded an average of 30 to 140 g per plant. Grasses performed better at Big Flats, NY where soils were deeper and the weather cooler and wetter. Preliminary results from 2001 indicate few differences among accessions in fiber, crude protein, and in vitro digestibility; most of the variation in nutritive value was associated with differences in leaf-to-stem ratio. Both wildrye and bottlebrush grass were very sensitive to drought. Bottlebrush grass was eliminated at Rock Springs by insect damage (tentatively identified as a Sphenophorus spp) to growing points and roots. These results indicate limited potential as productive forage grasses for these native grasses without genetic improvement.