||Native warm-season grasses historically made up a large component of the vegetation across Louisiana. Urban development, overgrazing, and planting of introduced pastures have reduced the distribution of these species to protected areas. However, there is a renewed interest
in using native grasses for forage and hay production, critical area plantings, wildlife habitat, and conservation buffers. Additionally, there are some new uses for these species, such as carbon
sequestration, prairie restoration, and biofuels. From 1996 through 2002, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Grazing
Land Conservation Initiative (GLCI) has planted 10 sites to native warm-season grasses, using existing cultivars, to demonstrate their use for grazing and hay production. The success of these plantings has been inconsistent. Seedling emergence and establishment were considered successful during the first growing season for five sites; however, on three of these sites, plant density and cover have decreased under grazing or haying pressure. Two sites (planted to
switchgrass [Panicum virgatum]), under heavy competition from johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense), took three years to establish. Seedling emergence and establishment were not successful at two sites, and a success determination at the final site is still pending after seeding during the spring of last year. Observations on these sites have shown that establishing and maintaining stands of
eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides), switchgrass, and indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) is difficult. Additionally, there has been no seedling emergence observed from plantings of little
bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). Probable causes for these results include poor seedbed preparation, lack of proper weed control following planting, and adaptability of cultivars to existing environmental conditions. As a result, it was determined that more information on the suitability of available cultivars of native warm-season grasses was needed for Louisiana. In addition, these assessments needed to be conducted under
similar conditions to minimize the variability associated with cultural practices affecting seedling emergence and establishment.
To address these concerns, GLCI and the Golden Meadows Plant Material Center are partnering to develop a statewide assessment of the adaptability of existing, commercially available cultivars for eastern gamagrass, indiangrass, switchgrass, little bluestem, and big
bluestem. These assessments will identify existing cultivars that can be used within Louisiana for grazing and other applications.
In 2003, three plantings were initiated to look at the adaptability of available and potentially adapted cultivars of big bluestem (‘Kaw’ and ‘Earl’), little bluestem (‘Aldous’, ‘Cimarron’, and ‘O.K. Select’), indiangrass (‘Lometa’ and ‘Cheyenne’), switchgrass (‘Alamo’,
‘Blackwell’, and ‘Pangburn’), and eastern gamagrass (Pete, IUKA, and Highlander) across the state. In 2004, seven plantings were also placed on larger acreages across the state. These plantings will be monitored for production and long-term survival under different
management scenarios. The resulting information will be used to determine the adaptability of these cultivars for use in Louisiana and provide information on the need for development of
locally adapted ecotypes of these species.