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STUDIES ON GROWTH BEHAVIOR AND HERBAGE YIELD OF FOUNTAIN GRASS.

Byline: M.Mushtaque, M.Ishaqueand and M.Ahmad alias Haji A.Bakhush

Abstract

The present study was carried out on Fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale Rich) to determine its growth behavior and herbage yield with advancing plant maturity. Stubbles of this grass were grown on a site having sandy-loam to loam soil during summer 2003. The experiment was laid out as Completely Randomized Design with four replications. Four clipping stages i.e. CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 (clipped after 1, 2, 3 and 4 months, respectively) were studied. The response variables were morphological characters (plant height, tiller density, basal circumference and leaf to stem ratio) and herbage yield of Fountain grass.

With increasing clipping stage (advancing maturity), plant height, tiller density and basal circumference of the grass increased (Pless than0.05) while leaf to stem ratio decreased (Pless than0.05). Herbage yield (fresh biomass yield, dry matter yield and organic matter yield) significantly differed (Pless than0.05) at each clipping stage. With advancing plant maturity of the species, its herbage yield increased (Pless than0.05). Phenology of the species revealed that with increasing plant maturity, proportion of its plants in vegetative stage declined. This decline of plants with vegetative stage can cause distraction to livestock depending on the species for grazing purposes. This study concluded that for getting maximum vegetative forage production (for range livestock) of Fountain grass, this plant species should be harvested or utilized by grazing animals during early two months of its growth.

Keywords: Fountain grass, clipping stage, morphological characters, herbage yield.

INTRODUCTION

Pakistan's rangelands are highly seasonal and are, therefore, unable to provide fresh forage throughout the year. The seasonality is either due to low temperatures or due to drought cum high temperatures. Range livestock consequently regularly suffer from scarcity of forage especially during winter or summer and thus require emergency feeds The graziers are thus compelled to migrate long distances in search of green forage that is mostly of poor quality because of low fertility status of range soils. Therefore range livestock frequently require supplementary high quality feeds. The seasonality and poor quality of forage leave little chance for developing commercial range management in the country. The only alternative is to produce sufficient quantities of good quality forage locally preferably in a range management unit (Quraishi et al 1993).

Proper management of range grasses can help shrink the gap between supply and demand of nutrients for animals. A common goal of pasture management is to maximize the yield of forage produced and harvested without inducing pasture deterioration (Warner and Sharrow, 1984). Grass plants constitute most extensive, much needed and familiar component of range vegetation especially in rather less extreme climates. Grasses in general are relatively more easily accessible, more palatable and have higher digestibility than shrubs and trees. Pakistan's native flora does contain a few very good perennial forage grasses which need to be propagated through seeding and stump planting (Quraishi et al, 1993). As the production potential of country's rangelands has deteriorated because of their over-exploitation, time is needed to restore and rejuvenate the potential of these lands by improving range vegetation.

Fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale Rich.) is a palatable deep-rooted perennial grass about 1.5 m high. It is a palatable and drought resistant grass species which remains green throughout the year (Gohl, 1981). It is vigorous heat-loving plant which is widely distributed in both tropical and temperate areas. It blooms from June to October and its soft inflorescences take their name from the Latin words penna and seta meaning feather-bristle. This lovely grass is a favorite, distinguished by arching, feathery bottlebrush flowers spilling over a cascading mound of foliage (Anonymous, 2007). Forage production in deteriorated range areas can be increased by growing Fountain grass along with other range vegetation. There is little information available on growth behavior and herbage yield of this species. Therefore the present study was planned to determine the growth behavior and herbage yield of this grass with advancing plant maturity.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Study was conducted at Punjab Forestry Research Institute, Faisalabad during early summer 2003. Stubbles of this grass were grown on a site having sandyloam to loam soil. Soil pH recorded up to the depth of 30.5 cm was 7.85. Total precipitation recorded at the site was 300 mm. More than 75 % of the precipitation was received during the first two months (July-August) of study.

Nursery of Fountain grass was raised on site through planting tuft splits in 1x3 meter plots at 0.3x0.3 meter spacing to maintain optimum plant density of 5 to 10 plants/m2. The experiment was laid out in a Completely Randomized Design with four replications. Four clipping stages i.e. clipping at 1-month (CS 1), 2-month (CS2), 3-month (CS 3) and 4-month (CS4) were studied. The grass biomass was manually clipped with sickle at 5 cm stubble height. The morphological data regarding number of tillers per plant, plant height, basal circumference and leaf to stem ratio were recorded on each clipping date,. Number of tillers per plant was determined by counting eight randomly selected and permanently tagged plants from each replicate for each clipping stage. Plant height (cm) was measured from ground to the end of the tallest leaf. Basal plant circumference was measured by taking the plant circumference (cm) with measuring tape at 5 cm stubble height (Butt et al., 1992).

Plant phenology was also recorded at each sampling date in which percent of plants in vegetative, flowering, seeding and seedfall stages were calculated. To determine leaf to stem ratio at each harvest, a sample (about 500 g) was removed from the innermost two rows of each sub-plot cut at a height of 5 cm. Tillers from this non- weed sample were divided into leaf blades and stem plus sheath fractions immediately after removal from the plot. The leaf and stem fractions were dried separately at 55degC to a constant weight. Leaf to stem ratio was calculated from the dry weights (Baron et al., 2000). The data collected for different parameters (like plant height, number of tillers, basal circumference, leaf to stem ratio and herbage yield) were statistically analyzed using analysis of variance and comparison of means was done by Duncan's Multiple Range test (Dowdy and Wearden, 1991).

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Plant Height:Mean plant heights of this grass were 24.83, 54.09, 93.40 and 113.4 cm at CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 defoliation stages, respectively (Table 1). The results revealed that plant height increased (Pless than0.05) with increasing maturity (clipping stages). Increase in plant height at CS1 and CS2 defoliation stages was non- significant while at CS3 clipping stage, plant height increased significantly. Phenological observations revealed that at CS1 and CS2 clipping stages, all plants were in vegetative growth stage while at CS3 and CS4, plants with vegetative growth stage declined (Fig. 1).

Higher plant height with advancing stage of defoliation may be attributed to longer vegetative growth period of this grass. This might be also due to physiological maturation of plants during late growing season. Similar results were reported by Mislevy et al (1989). They clipped elephant grass at different stages and reported that average plant height increased from 1.2 to 4.9 m with increasing clipping stage. These results are also consistent with those of Butt et al. (1992) who defoliated Cenchrus ciliaris at 3, 6 and 9 week clipping stages while the control plots were defoliated at the end of the growing season (after 4 months). They reported that plants defoliated at the end of growing season produced taller (73.8 cm) plants than those clipped at other stages. They attributed maximum plant height to the longer vegetative growth period. Results of Garcia and Rodriguez (1980) also supported the findings of this study.

They reported that plant height of Cenchrus ciliaris increased with advancing age and demonstrated that the highest average height was observed when the grass was cut at 84 days of age.

Number of tillers: Mean number of tillers per plant of Fountain grass were 1.28, 7.53, 14.91 and 15.48 at CS1, CS 2, CS3 and CS4 defoliation stages, respectively (Table 1). This grass produced increased (Pless than0.05) number of tillers per plant with advancing plant maturity (clipping stages). The high rate of increase in tiller density was noted during first three clipping stages, while it reduced during the last month of the experimental period.

Higher tiller density at early clipping stages may be due to more vegetative growth of grass at CS1 and CS2 (Fig. 1). Higher number of tillers per plant with advancing growth resulted in increased basal circumference. Butt et al. (1992) studied similar response of Cenchrus ciliaris and reported that maximum number of tillers was found in plots defoliated at the end of growing season. They attributed it to longer vegetative growth period. Similarly, Madakadze et al. (1999) reported that the tiller density increased in switchgrass with advancing plant maturity.

Basal circumference: Mean values of basal circumference of Fountain grass defoliated at CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 clipping stages were 8.47, 11.14, 18.01 and 19.73 cm, respectively (Table 1). Basal circumference increased throughout the plant growth period with higher rate of increase at CS1, CS2 and CS3 clipping stages. It increased (Pless than0.05) with increasing stage of defoliation.

Increased basal circumference with advancing plant age may be attributed to the increased tillers density during vegetative growth period. At CS4 stage of defoliation, almost all plants were in seedfall stage and cessation of growth. Therefore, the rate of increase in tiller density declined. Similar results were reported by Butt et al (1992) and Khan (1970). Butt et al. (1992) reported that basal circumference increased with increasing clipping stage and the control plots, cut at the end of growing season, had the maximum basal circumference (45.29 cm). They attributed it to longer vegetative growth period.

Leaf to stem ratio: Mean values of leaf to stem ratio of Fountain grass were 3.05, 1.59, 0.41 and 0.32 at CS1, CS2, CS 3 and CS4 clipping stages, respectively (Table 1). Leaf to stem ratio decreased (Pless than0.05) with increasing stage of defoliation. The rate of decline was higher at CS1 and CS2 than that at the other two clipping stages.

Decreased leaf to stem ratio with advancing plant age may be attributed to stem development and synthesis of more cell wall contents. At CS3 defoliation stage, about 50 % and 40 % of the plants were at seeding and seedfall stages, respectively (Fig. 1). Inflorescence being part of the stem, it might have reduced the leaf to stem ratio during these stages. Similar findings were reported by Dabo et al. (1988) and Crowder and Chheda (1982). Dabo et al. (1988) reported that leaf to stem ratio in bluestem was higher at early cut than that of late cut grass. Crowder and Chheda (1982) concluded that a short vegetative period of 4 to 6 weeks was followed by stem elongation and floral parts in Cenchrus ciliaris, which may have resulted in decreased leaf to stem ratio with advancing age. These results are also consistent with those of O'Reagain and Owen Smith. (1996) and Dabo et al. (1987) who reported decreased (Pless than0.05) leaf to stem ratio with advancing maturity.

Herbage yield: The data revealed that average herbage yield (fresh biomass) of this grass were 0.50, 5.04, 13.26 and 20.85 tons per hectare (ha) at CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 clipping stages, respectively (Table 2). Herbage yield increased (Pless than0.05) throughout the experimental period. The yield was less in the first clipping stage because the grass had not established fully and it increased its yield about 10 times during the second month.

Table 1. Effect of clipping stage1 on morphological characters of Fountain grass

Parameter###Clipping stages###

###CS1###CS2###CS3###CS4###S.E###

Plant height, cm###24.83b###54.09b###93.40a###113.40a###9.2

###5

Tillers per plant, No.###1.28b###7.53b###14.91a###15.48a###1.9

###4

Basal circumference, cm 8.47b###11.14ab###18.01a###19.73ab###2.5

###1

Leaf to stem ratio###3.05a###1.59b###0.41c###0.32d###0.0

###1

Means within a row bearing different superscripts differ significantly (Pless than0.05) 1CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 stand for clipping stages harvested at 1, 2, 3 and 4 months, respectively. S.E is the standard error.

Table 2 Effect of clipping stage1 on biomass production of Fountain grass

Parameter###Clipping stage###

###CS1###CS2###CS3###CS4###S.E###

Fresh biomass yield,###0.50d###5.04c###13.26b###20.85a###0.2

Tons/ha###7###

Dry matter, percent###21.35d###23.48c###28.02b###31.25a###0.4###

###2###

Dry matter yield,###0.11d###1.18c###3.72b###6.52a###0.1###

Tons/ha###1###

Organic matter yield,###0.10d###0.99c###3.16b###5.8a###0.0###

Tons/ha###9

Means within a row bearing different superscripts differ significantly (Pless than0.05) 1CS1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 stand for clipping stages harvested at 1, 2, 3 and 4 months, respectively. S.E is the standard error.

At CS3 and CS4 defoliation stages, the herbage yield increased by 163 % and 57 %, respectively. The dry matter contents of this grass defoliated at CS 1, CS2, CS3 and CS4 clipping stages were 21.35, 23.48, 28.02 and 31.25 %, respectively. Dry matter and organic matter yields followed a pattern similar to fresh herbage yield with advancing growth stage of this grass. The results were in agreement with those reported by Madakadze et al. (1999), Butt et al. (1992), Griffin and Jung (1983) and Borreani et al. (2003). Similarly, while studying the effect of defoliation on herbage yield of grasses, Madakadze et al. (1999) reported that the dry matter yield increased with increasing plant maturity and attributed it to increased tiller density with advancing plant age.

Butt et al. (1992) reported that dry matter yields of various cultivars of Cenchrus ciliaris increased significantly during second year as compared to first year and attributed this increase to better establishment of grass stubbles in second year. Siilarly, Griffin and Jung (1983) observed increased forage dry matter yield of grass with increasing maturation. Borreani et al. (2003) also noted increased dry matter yields of Sulla (Hedysarum coronarium L.) from 2 to more than 10 tons per ha between vegetative and seed set morphological stages.

Conclusion: In summary, morphological characters of Fountain grass like its plant height, tiller density and basal circumference increased while its leaf to stem ratio declined as the species advanced towards maturity. Herbage yield of the grass in terms of its fresh biomass yield, dry matter yield and organic matter yield increased with advancing plant maturity of the grass. Although the species had highest herbage yield (biomass production) at the 4th clipping stage but in this yield the proportion of plants with vegetative stage was lower than the yield at the first and second month of clipping stage of the grass. From the grazing management point of view, this grass should grazed during earlier two months of its growth so that the grazing animals may get maximum vegetative form of its forage in the rangelands.

REFERENCES

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Baron, V. S., A. C. Dick and J. R. King. Leaf and Stem Mass Characteristics of Cool-Season Grasses Grown in the Canadian Parkland. Agronomy Journal 92:54-63 (2000).

Borreani, G., P. P. Roggero, L. Sulas and M. E. Valente. Quantifying morphological stage to predict the nutritive value in Sulla (Hedysarum coronarium L.) Agronomy Journal 95: 1608-1617 (2003).

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Madakadze, I. C., K. Stewart, P. R. Peterson, B. E. Coulman and D. L. Smith. Switchgrass biomass and chemical composition for biofuel in Eastern Canada. Agronomy Journal 91: 696-701 (1999).

Mislevy, O., F. G. Martin and M. B. Adjei. Changes in elephant grass plant components with maturity: II. Crude protein and digestibility. P. 841. In R. Desroches (ed.) Proc. Int. Grassl. Congr., 16th, Nice, France. 4-11 Oct. French Grassl. Soc., Versailles, (1989).

O'Reagain, P. J. and R. N. Owen-Smith. Effect of species composition and sward structure on dietary quality in cattle and sheep grazing South African Sourveld. J. Agric. Sci., Camb. 127: 261-270 (1996).

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Punjab Forest Department, Lahore Department of Forestry, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad Punjab Agriculture Department, Lahore
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Publication:Pakistan Journal of Science
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2010
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