|Station Bulletin 5951990,|
Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station
Reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea L.) is a tall-growing, perennial grass which is widely distributed across Minnesota and other northern states. Particularly well adapted to wet soils, it is also productive on upland sites. Reed canarygrass spreads by underground stems (rhizomes) and forms a solid sod. It can be harvested as pasture, silage, or hay, whether sown in pure stands or in mixture with legumes.
New low-alkaloid varieties of reed canarygrass offer potential for improved animal performance and expanded use. Reed canarygrass is better adapted to diverse uses and environmental conditions than most other commonly used perennial grasses (Table 1).
|Grass||Heat/drought Tolerance||Flooding Tolerance||Winterhardiness||Frequent cutting Tolerance||Seedling Vigor||Sod-forming Capacity|
|E = excellent, G = good, F = fair, P = poor|
Reed canarygrass has unjustly gained a reputation as a low quality forage grass. This misconception is in part due to the potentially high alkaloid content of native ecotypes, and to the frequent practice of delayed mid-summer harvest of very mature reed canarygrass from wetlands which were flooded during the spring. But modern reed canarygrass forage yields and quality are equal to or greater than those of other cool season forage grasses when harvested at a similar stage of maturity (Tables 2, 3 and 4).
|Grass||Forage Yield (tons/acre)2||Grass Stand (%)|
|Baylor smooth bromegrass||6.6||5.0||4.5||83||50||45|
|Rise reed canarygrass||6.4||6.0||5.0||95||88||68|
|Venture reed canarygrass||6.6||5.6||4.9||95||90||79|
|Palaton reed canarygrass||6.3||6.0||5.6||93||88||82|
1Sheaffer et al., 1990. Journal of Production Agriculture.
2Yield values averaged for three years. Stand persistence measured in the spring following three years of harvesting. Grasses fertilized with 150 lb N/acre in the spring of each year.
3LSD: for statistical separation of all means within yield and stand categories.
|Grass||2-cut management (%)||3-cut management (%)||4-cut management (%)|
|Baylor smooth bromegrass||10.8||62.9||54.8||13.5||59.9||60.8||17.9||52.6||69.8|
|Rise reed canarygrass||12.6||61.7||54.2||14.6||59.9||58.0||18.1||54.6||65.9|
|Venture reed canarygrass||11.9||62.8||52.5||13.2||61.8||57.8||18.4||54.0||66.8|
|Palaton reed canarygrass||12.9||61.4||54.8||13.6||60.1||59.1||18.4||54.3||66.4|
1Sheaffer et al., 1990. Journal of Production Agriculture.
2Grasses fertilized with 150 lb N/acre in the spring.
3CP = crude protein; NDF = neutral detergent fiber; DDM = digestible dry matter.
4LSD: for statistical separation of CP, NDF, and DDM means within and over cutting managements.
|Grass||Forage yield (tons/acre)1||Grass stand (%)|
|Baylor smooth bromegrass||2.3||1.1||02||0|
|Venture reed canarygrass||5.2||3.0||84||56|
|Palaton reed canarygrass||5.4||3.0||80||64|
1Yield values averaged for two years. Stand persistence measured in the spring following two years of harvesting. Grasses fertilized with 150 lb N/arce.
2Smooth bromegrass only persisted for one harvest year.
3LSD: for statistical comparison of yield and stand means within or over cutting managements.
Lack of palatability to livestock (selection when a choice is given) is frequently cited as why this agronomically superior species is not more widely grown. Older varieties such as Rise and Vantage, and most native types growing in wetlands, contain significant amounts of one or two basic types of alkaloids.
Figure 1. Low alkaloid varieties of reed canarygrass are clearly more palatable. In trials, livestock consistently choose the new varieties and graze them shorter than older varieties (such as is the ungrazed clump at the bottom center of photo).
Alkaloids are bitter, complex, nitrogen containing compounds which can reduce the performance of grazing animals. Animal performance may be highly negatively correlated with total alkaloid concentration, however, the two types of alkaloids in reed canarygrass have been documented to affect grazing animals somewhat differently. High concentrations of simple gramine alkaloids reduce palatability. The more complex tryptamine-carboline alkaloids cause diarrhea as well as reduce palatability.
Experiments conducted by agronomists, animal scientists, and plant breeders with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, University of Minnesota and a private seed company, led to the development and release of MN-76, a low alkaloid germplasm, and the commercial varieties, Venture and Palaton.
Each of these new varieties has a low concentration of alkaloids relative to older varieties, but MN-76, Venture, and Palaton also have no tryptamine-carboline alkaloids. The older variety, Vantage, also has no tryptamines-carbolines.
The breeding efforts substantially increased both the palatability of reed canarygrass (Table 5 and Figure 1) and the performance of grazing animals. Lambs grazing low alkaloid MN-76 reed canarygrass gained 51% to 95% more per day than did those grazing Rise, and 14% to 87% more than those grazing Vantage (Table 6).
|Venture reed canarygrass||0.11||3.2|
|Palaton reed canarygrass||0.11||2.8|
|MN-76 reed canarygrass||0.09||3.2|
|Rise reed canarygrass||0.21||5.6|
|Vantage reed canarygrass||0.15||5.5|
1Marten (1989), unpublished data.
2Palatability scores: 1 = complete consumption, 10 = complete rejection
Average daily gain
1Marten et al., 1981. Crop Science, 21:295-298.
2The indole alkaloid threshold at or above which lambs will have reduced gain is about 0.2% dry weight.
The low alkaloid varieties, Venture and Palaton, have forage yield potential, forage quality, and persistence equal or superior to older varieties such as Rise (Tables 2, 3 and 4). Both Venture and Palaton have high levels of leaf disease resistance.
Reed canarygrass tolerates a soil pH range of 4.9 to 8.2. Mature plants have been known to tolerate five to eight weeks of spring flooding. However, like most cool season grasses, it has only moderate tolerance to saline soils.
Reed canarygrass has superior persistence on poorly drained soils, yet its yield and persistence under moisture deficits is equal or superior to other commonly grown cool season grasses (Table 7). Reed canarygrass is very winterhardy.
|Grass||Forage Yield (tons/acre)|
1Sheaffer, 1990. Unpublished.
2Yield from a mid-July harvest for two years. Grasses fertilized in the spring with 150 lb N/acre.
3LSD: for comparison of two means within and over irrigated and drought environments.
Of the perennial grasses adapted to Minnesota, reed canarygrass is among the most persistent. It maintains yield under cutting strategies designed to produce both low and high quality forage.
While tall fescue and orchardgrass do not persist under infrequent cutting and smooth bromegrass and timothy do not persist well under frequent cutting (initial cutting before anthesis), reed canarygrass persists when cut at a diversity of growth stages. It is, therefore, very adaptable to use as harvested forage or as pasture (Tables 4 and 6).
Grasses are mixed with legumes to minimize bloat potential, soil erosion, legume heaving and weed invasion inherent in legume monocultures, and to increase hay drying rates. Recommended grass composition varies from 20% to 50% depending on use of the forage. For animals with high nutrient intake requirements, reduced grass composition is desired. If grass composition exceeds 50%, forage intake potential can be greatly reduced.
Reed canarygrass is uniquely adapted for mixtures with many of the legumes grown in Minnesota. In addition to being productive under a diversity of cutting managements, it is not excessively competitive in mixtures.
Figure 2 shows that the grass composition of reed canarygrass-alfalfa mixtures subject to two cutting managements was more consistent (about 30%) than were smooth bromegrass- or orchardgrass-alfalfa mixtures. Smooth bromegrass did not persist under the 3-cut harvest management used by many producers. Excessive orchardgrass competitiveness resulted in alfalfa stand loss and low yield.
Because it has a sod-forming habit, reed canarygrass can fill in gaps in the stand, and it will never forms clumps in the field like those found with orchardgrass.
Reed canarygrass is adapted to mixtures with legumes such as birdsfoot trefoil and alsike clover which also tolerate wet soils. On upland sites in southern Minnesota under cutting and grazing, it is more capable than other grasses of preventing weed invasion of mixtures with birdsfoot trefoil, without excessively competing with the legume.
Reed canarygrass has a superior capacity to persist and remove nitrogen when irrigated with municipal and industrial waste effluents (Table 8).
|Grass||Yield (tons/acre)2||N Uptake (lbs/acre)||Stands (%)3|
1Marten et al., 1979. Agronomy Journal 71:650-658.
2Yield of dry matter and digestible nutrients are those of a one-year-old stand.
3Stands after five years of treatment. Smooth bromegrass and timothy stands declined beginning in the second year.
Reed canarygrass may require two weeks to germinate and emerge and its seedlings are not highly competitive. Therefore, careful attention needs to be given to establishment practices.
Early spring (mid-April to early June) or late summer (mid-July to mid-August) are the best times to seed. Spring seedings provide best chances for adequate moisture for germination. Summer seedings have less weed competition, but may not be successful in areas with inadequate summer moisture.
A firm and level seedbed which insures good soil-seed contact and shallow seed placement is essential. Loose and uneven seedbeds are a major cause of poor stands. Your shoes should sink only about one inch into a properly prepared seedbed.
For pure stands, seed 8 to 10 lbs/acre of pure live seed; for mixtures with legumes seed 6 lbs/acre of reed canarygrass.
Seed at 1/4 to 1/2 inch soil depth. The deeper seeding is advantageous on sandy soils and for summer seeding when surface soil moisture may be limiting. Test your planter and determine the depth of seeding. Seeds sown on the soil surface or greater than 1/2 inch deep have little chance of developing into seedlings.
Summer seeding usually results in relatively less weed competition with new grass seedlings than does spring seedings. For mixtures with alfalfa, annual weeds are often eliminated by a timely first harvest when alfalfa is at bud stage and before weeds flower. For pure reed canarygrass stands, weeds should be clipped or harvested when they shade the reed canarygrass seedlings. A number of herbicides may be used (consult Cultural & Chemical Weed Control in Field Crops, Minnesota Extension Bulletin BU-3157) Reed canarygrass can be seeded with oat or barley companion crops, if the companion crop variety is early and lodging resistant.
If small grain companion crops are used for establishment, seeding rate should be reduced to between 1/3 and 1/2 of normal, and early removal for forage at boot stage becomes mandatory to reduce competition, especially for light and moisture.
Fertilizers should be applied according to soil test recommendations. Reed canarygrass will respond to nitrogen fertilization, and to a lesser extent to potassium and phosphate fertilization. For economically optimum forage yield and to enhance crude protein concentration on non-organic soils, a total of 100 to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre should be applied each year. For best utilization and uniform growth, total nitrogen should be divided between at least two applications per year.
Reed canarygrass establishment and yield contribution to legume mixtures can be altered by changing the seeding technique. Whereas reed canarygrass yield in mixture with alfalfa is similar when seeded in alternate rows (1:1) as when mixed in the same row (Table 9), increasing the rows of reed canarygrass relative to those of alfalfa (to 2:1 or 3:1) increases reed canarygrass yield in mixtures. Row arrangements are achieved by separating the forage seed box with dividers.
|Row Arrangement2||Seeding year (tons/acre)||3 year average (tons/acre)3|
|Mix in row||2.5||1.1||3.6||4.7||1.1||5.8|
1Sheaffer 1990. Unpublished.
2Row arrangements: 1:1 = 1 row grass:1 row alfalfa, 2:1 = 2 rows grass:1 row alfalfa, 3:1 = 3 rows grass:1 row alfalfa. Mixed in row = grass and legume seeded in row, broadcast = random broadcasting of grass and legume seeds. Seeding rate = alfalfa 10 lbs/acre, reed canarygrass 6 lbs/acre.
3Seeding year and two production years.
4LSD: for comparison of two means within columns.
Reed canarygrass tolerates a diversity of cutting strategies better than most other grasses. It can consequently offer forage with a wide range of yield and quality.
The cutting strategy employed by producers will depend on their relative needs for forage quality or yield. Forage quality and yield at individual regrowth cycles are related to maturity at harvest.
Producers desiring highest quality should harvest at boot stage, while those desiring highest yield should harvest at heading in the first growth in the spring, or at the end of stem elongation for the summer regrowth. Reed canarygrass will normally flower only once when subject to repeated harvests during the year. The spring growth will ultimately terminate in the production of an infloresence and seed. Subsequent regrowths will result in stem elongation but no infloresence.
Forage quality is greatest when reed canarygrass is immature and vegetative (Figure 4). Nutrient concentration declines rapidly with increased maturity. This change is primarily associated with increases in lignin and other fibrous portions of the stem and a decrease in leaf proportion. In contrast to forage quality, forage yield is lowest at vegetative stages and increases rapidly until heading.
For best quality pasture and most effective utilization, grazing should begin when reed canarygrass is 6 to 12 inches tall. Short duration rotational grazing with a heavy grazing pressure will allow the best utilization and greatest animal gains per acre.
Reed canarygrass must be grazed to minimize steminess. This is especially critical in the spring. Reed canarygrass does not make high quality late fall pasture.
Decker, A.M., G.A. Jung, J.B. Washko, D.D. Wolf, and M.J. Wright. 1969. Management and productivity of perennial grasses in the Northeast: I. Reed Canarygrass. West Virginia Univ. Agric Exp. Sn. Bull. 550T.
Dodds, D., and E.H. Vasey. 1974. Forages for salt-affected and wet soils. North Dakota Coop. Extension service Circular R-584.
Marten, G.C. 1985. Reed Canarygrass. In M.E. Heath et al. (ed.) Forages. Fourth ed. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA.
Marten, G.C., C.E. Clapp, and W.E. Larson. 1979. Effects of municipal wastewater effluent and cutting management on persistence and yield of eight perennial forages. Agron. J. 71:650-658.
Marten, G.C., and A.W. Hovin. 1980. Harvest schedule, persistence, yield, and quality interactions among four perennial grasses. Agron. J. 72:378-387.
Marten, G.C., R.M. Jordan, and A.W. Hovin. 1981. Improved lamb performance associated with breeding for alkaloid reduction in reed canarygrass. Crop. Sci. 21:295-298.
Sheaffer, C.C., G.C. Marten, and D.L. Rabas. 1984. Influence of grass species on composition, yield, and quality of birdsfoot trefoil mixtures. Agron. J. 76:627-632.
Sheaffer, C.C., D.W. Miller, and G.C. Marten. 1990. Perennial grass-alfalfa mixtures: grass dominance, and mixture yield and quality. J. Prod. Agric., Sept-Dec..
Acknowledgements - The authors gratefully acknowledge the following companies for their support of research on perennial grasses: Peterson Seed Company, Inc, Savage, Minnesota; Norfarm Seeds Inc, Bemidji and Roseau, Minnesota; and Research Seeds, St. Joseph, Missouri. Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station editor and designer for the Station Bulletin monographs is Larry A. Etkin.
|Craig C. Sheaffer
|Gordon C. Marten
Agronomist and Professor
|Neal P. Martin|
|Doug W. Miller
|David L. Rabas|
North Central Experiment Station
Grand Rapids, Minnesota
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