Andropogon gayanus


Scientific name

Andropogon gayanus  Kunth

Subordinate taxa:
Andropogon gayanus Kunth var. bisquamulatus (Hochst.) Hack.
Andropogon gayanus Kunth var. gayanus
Andropogon gayanus Kunth var. polycladus (Hack.) Clayton

Synonyms

Andropogon bisquamulatus Hochst.

Family/tribe

Family: Poaceae (alt. Gramineae) subfamily: Panicoideae tribe: Andropogoneae.

Common names

gamba grass, bluestem (Africa, Australia);  Rhodesian andropogon (southern Africa);  Rhodesian blue grass (Zimbabwe);  onga, tambuki grass (north-west Africa);  sadabahar (India).

Morphological description

A tall perennial grass with short rhizomes, forming tussocks up to 1 m diameter.  Seed heads of ungrazed gamba grass can grow to 4 m.  Leaves (up to 1 m long) green, becoming bluish under moisture stress, with a strong white midrib;  hairy on both surfaces, particularly when young;  leaf sheath up to 20 cm long, hairy at base;  leaves may appear to have petioles as the leaf blade is reduced almost to the midrib above the ligule .
The seed head is borne on tall strong culms;  inflorescence consists of paired racemes 4-9 cm long, bearing about 17 spikelet pairs;  spikelets are sessile and have a long (-30 mm) conspicuous awn .
Gamba grass has three types of roots - most are fibrous roots close to the surface that probably produce the vigorous early growth;  thick cord roots which store starch and anchor the tussock ;  and vertical roots that can extract water at depth during the dry season.

Distribution

Native throughout tropical Africa, extending south to Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa in regions with extended dry seasons.  Occurs naturally in xerophytic grasslands on doleritic, sandy or clayey soils at altitudes up to 1,500 m asl .

Now introduced to many parts of the world, particularly to tropical America.  It has naturalised in Brazil and parts of northern Australia.

Uses/applications

Sown as permanent pasture on commercial ranches;  it can be stocked heavily during the wet growing season (at 4-5 beasts/ha) making it useful for holding paddocks as it can feed a large number of cattle for a short time.  Cut for fresh feed and for fodder conservation by smallholders.
Lower fertility demand has allowed rehabilitation of run-down paddocks and degraded fields of Panicum maximum without the use of weed control or fertilizer.
Used in Nigeria for reclaiming overgrazed land.  10 m wide strips of A. gayanus have been planted in fields of millet to reduce wind erosion occurring at start of wet season.  Strips captured >2,000 t/ha of sand within 3 years.  The thick stems are used for thatch in Africa.

Ecology

Soil requirements

Adapted to a wide range of soil types - sands to clays, alkaline to strongly acid (pH 4-7.5), infertile to fertile - but grows best on loams of moderate fertility.  Good tolerance of high Al (>80% saturation) through exclusion of the element, but not salinity.  Gamba grass can tolerate some waterlogging .

Moisture

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Can grow in environments with 400-3,000 mm rainfall, and withstand a strong dry season of up to 9 months, but prefers >750 mm rainfall with 3-7 months dry season.  Its root system provides excellent drought tolerance with the leaf remaining green.  Some types can stand short-term flooding but most have poor tolerance.
It will grow with rainfall up to 2,500 mm provided there is a strong dry season, but may be less suitable than Brachiaria spp. under such conditions.

Temperature

Best growth in lowlands of the tropics and warmer subtropics (to 20º of latitude) as growth is restricted where mean minimum temperature of the coldest month is below 4.4ºC.  Leaves are killed by frost.  Optimal flowering at 25ºC.

Light

Generally considered to require full sunlight but is productive under light shading or cloudy conditions.  In Cuba, significantly reduced yields under Albizia procera were attributed to low light conditions.

Reproductive development

No information available.

Defoliation

Highly tolerant of cutting;  good regrowth within 30 days.  Good tolerance to both continuous and rotational grazing (35 days rest in wet season and 42 days in dry season recommended).  Established stands can be grazed heavily (4 animals/ha in wet season, 1/ha in dry season) with the large tussock bases persisting.  Gamba grass should be grazed or cut to maintain new green leaf as mature growth of leaf and stem is coarse and of low nutritional value.

Fire

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Resistant to fire (much better than Brachiaria decumbens or Hyparrhenia rufa).  Gamba tussocks recover well after fire with rapid development of new tillers, and are frequently burned every year in the early dry season.  Ungrazed tussocks with dense leaf to 2 m and woody stems to 3 m at the end of the dry season constitute very heavy fuel loads and can generate intense fires.

Agronomy

Establishment

Gamba can be planted from seed (1-10 kg/ha) into prepared or semi-prepared seedbeds;  it can also be established from young rooted tillers.  Seed is difficult to harvest and clean mechanically so that seed quality may be low (e.g. a ratio of 5-15 kg uncleaned seed to 1 kg pure seed).  A de-awning seed cleaner has been developed by CIAT.  Seed should not be sown within 6 months of harvest due to dormancy .  The fluffy seed is difficult to spread but can be sown through a drum seeder or out of a fertiliser spinner mixed with fertiliser.

Fertiliser

Gamba grass is tolerant of low fertility but seedling growth may be slow unless some additional P and K is applied on deficient soils.  Without added N, it produces twice as much dry matter as Brachiaria decumbens or Panicum maximum .

Compatibility (with other species)

This tall tussock grass will combine well with twining and erect shrub legumes, but may need heavy defoliation to reduce competitiveness.

Companion species

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Pests and diseases

Good resistance to spittlebug (Deois flavopicta) in Brazil due to antibiotic, physical and anatomical factors.  In South America, colonies of leaf cutting ants (Atta and  Acromyrex spp.) can destroy establishing stands of grass .

Ability to spread

Seeds prolifically;  as the light fluffy seed is produced at a height of 2-4 m above the ground, it can be spread by wind to naturalise as desirable or undesirable stands.  Experience in northern Australia is that most seed falls within 1 m of the plant tussock but is spread by animals or machinery.

Weed potential

Gamba grass has been declared an environmental weed in monsoonal northern Australia because of its ability to spread and generate intensely hot fires.  These fires can cause loss of infrastructure in semi-rural districts where the grass is not grazed;  they can also alter the fire regime and change the savannah vegetation.
In regions with strong and long dry seasons and light stocking rates, gamba pastures may not be able to be grazed heavily enough during the growing season to prevent excessive fuel loads accumulating.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

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Nutritional value is moderate in young growth (on moderately fertile soils) CP 7-10% (up to 18% CP ), but P levels can be low due to growth dilution in the wet season.  Feed value decreases rapidly after flowering, and so conserved feed is often of little nutritional value.  Mature stems are best used for thatch.
Variation in leafiness and intake was observed between genotypes evaluated in Colombia.  IVDM Digestibility is up to 63% during the wet season but drops to 30-40% at the end of the dry season.

Palatability/acceptability

Young growth of gamba grass is palatable.  Well accepted by cattle throughout the year under moderate grazing pressures, but becomes coarse and fibrous if under-grazed.

Toxicity

No animal disorders reported.

Production potential

Dry matter

Highly productive but DM yield (4-25 t/ha) up to 30 t/ha will depend on soil fertility and rainfall .  In Brazil, A. gayanus has out-yielded species of Brachiaria.  In northern Australia, annual yields of 4-9 t/ha (up to 20 t/ha) in the Northern Territory were recorded in regions with a 7-8 month dry season.

Animal production

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Animal production on gamba grass savannah is low at 90-120 kg/head/yr because of weight loss during the dry season.  Addition of a legume can raise this to 150 kg/hd/yr.  In the dry tropics of South America, with a 5-month wet season, LWGs up to 250 kg/ha/yr have been recorded.

Genetics/breeding

Breeding behaviour is allogamous.  Reproduces sexually with cross-pollination by wind.  2n = 20.
There is ample genetic variation within the species for many important traits.  Dwarf types are being bred in Colombia.

Seed production

Short-day flowering response (critical daylength 12-14 hrs). In Bolivia and Brazil (16-19ºS), flowering is well synchronised in April, but synchronisation is poor at lower latitudes.  Time from first flowering to harvest is 36-44 days.  Seed can be harvested with beater-type harvester or conventional header;  production is high with 350 kg/ha being recorded.  Commercial range for hand-harvested seed is 65-125 kg/ha.  The fluffy seed is difficult to clean and needs to be de-awned to flow through machinery.

Herbicide effects

No information available.

Strengths

  • Drought-tolerant.
  • Adapted to infertile soils but responds to fertility.
  • High DM yields with young leaf palatable.

Limitations

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  • Low quality when mature resulting in management problems.
  • Poor seedling vigour and unreliable establishment with low quality seed.
  • Rapid spread from wind-blown seed.
  • Potential environmental weed without grazing management.

Other comments

Andropogon gayanus var. bisquamulatus is common in savannah from Senegal to Sudan, colonising denuded and waste land.  Very palatable when young.  Andropogon gayanus var. polycladus from same region and further east to Tanzania and south to Angola.
Vars. polycladus  and  bisqamulatus grow best on well drained sandy clays of medium to high fertility.
A. gayanus var. gayanus  found in seasonal swamps and hence has better adaptation to waterlogged soils
Released in Brazil as alternative to Brachiaria decumbens for use on acid infertile soils of the Cerrados.

Selected references

CIAT (1992). Pastures for the Tropical Lowlands. CIAT, Cali, Colombia.
Lenne, J.M. and Trutmann, P. (eds) (1994). Diseases of Tropical Pasture Plants. CABI, Wallingford, UK.
Peters, M., Franco, L.H., Schmidt, A. and Hincapie, B. (2003) Especies forrajeras multiproposito: Opciones para productores de Centroamerica. CIAT Publication No. 333. CIAT, Cali, Colombia.
Schultze-Kraft, R. (1992) Andropogon gayanus Kunth. In: 't Mannetje, L. and Jones, R.M. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 4. Forages. pp. 44-46. (Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands).
Thomas, D. and Grof, B. (1986) Some pasture species for the tropical savannas of South America. III. Andropogon gayanus , Brachiaria species and Panicum maximum . Herbage Abstracts, 56 , 557-565.
Toledo, J.M., Vera, R., Lascano, C. and Lenne, J.M. (eds) (1990) Andropogon gayanus Kunth: A grass for tropical acid soils. CIAT, Cali, Colombia. (Spanish and English).

Internet links

Cultivars

All commercial cultivars in tropical America belong to var. bisquamulatus.

Cultivars

Country/date released

Details

'Carimagua 1'
(=CIAT 621, CPI 99640, ILRI 12465)

Columbia (1980)
CIAT 621 is an introduction from Shika, Nigeria.
'Planaltina' Brazil (1980)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'Sabanero'
Venezuela (1983) see 'Carimagua 1'
'Veranero' Panama (1983)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'San Martin'
Peru (1984)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'Llanero'
Mexico (1986)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'Andropogon'
Cuba (1988)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'Veranero'
Costa Rica (1989)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'Otoreño'
Honduras (1989)
see 'Carimagua 1'
'Gamba'
Nicaragua (1989) see 'Carimagua 1'
'ICTA-Real' Guatemala (1992) see 'Carimagua 1'
'Kent'
(CPI 2312)
Australia (1986)

Probably derived by natural selection following crossing within and between CPI 9207 (origin unknown), supplied as var. sqamulatus and CPI 2312 (from Zaria in Nigeria).  Cv. Kent cannot be assigned to var. sqamulatus or var. bisquamulatus as it has some morphological characteristics of each variety.

'Baeti'
(EMBRAPA 23)
Brazil (1995)

Better establishment, more uniform, more productive, better recovery after defoliation than Planaltina.  Bred using half-sib progeny of Planaltina.

Promising accessions

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Promising accessions

Country

Details

None reported.