Group Title: Bulletin - University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station ; 153
Title: Napier and Merker grasses
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 Material Information
Title: Napier and Merker grasses two new forage crops for Florida
Series Title: Bulletin University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station
Physical Description: p. 235-249 : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Thompson, John B ( John Bert ), b. 1878
Publisher: University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Place of Publication: Gainesville Fla
Publication Date: 1919
Subject: Forage plants -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Grasses -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by J.B. Thompson.
General Note: Cover title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00005235
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000922778
oclc - 18170753
notis - AEN3287

Full Text

February, 1919


Agricultural Experiment Station




Fig. 122.-Merker Grass growing in Lake County, Fla.

The Station Bulletins will be sent free upon application to the Experiment
Station, Gainesville

Bulletin 153


It was thru the generous donation of $2500 from the Florida
Cattle Tick Eradication Committee, in 1917, that it has been
possible to carry on experimental work with forage crops.
Shortly after the money was received, Prof. J. B. Thompson
was employed as forage crop specialist. He has had extensive
experience with tropical forage crops, having been in charge of
the Guam Experiment Station for a number of years, and later
connected with the Hawaii Experiment Station.
Prof. Thompson'has made a large number of experiments with
Napier and Merker grasses in this State. The results he pro-
duced, together with the experience others have had with these
grasses, make him confident that the value of these important
forage crops should be brought to the attention of the people of
the' State.
A report on forage crop work is given in the current biennial
report of the Board of Control. The forthcoming annual report
of the Experiment Station will contain a more detailed statement
of the work.

Two New Forage Crops for Florida

These two similar and closely allied grasses have recently been
introduced into Florida; and they have already proved themselves
peculiarly fitted for growing under certain conditions existing
in the State. Both have been found to yield heavy crops of a
palatable and highly nutritious feed for stock. They have quickly
attracted the attention of owners of livestock and others who
are interested in the improvement of our local forage supply. A
growing demand for reliable information on these grasses is
manifest by the many letters of inquiry reaching the Experiment
Station. It is with the object of meeting this demand as nearly
as is possible at this time that this bulletin was prepared.

(Pennisetum purpureum)
Napier grass is a native of Tropical Africa. The Rhodesian
Department of Agriculture has the distinction of having first
introduced it into cultivation. This was about 1910. In 1913
the United States Department of Agriculture first introduced
it into this country. Here it promises to be valuable for planting
in the extreme South, including the entire State of Florida, and
a strip extending thru the southern' portions of Mississippi,
Louisiana, and Texas. It also promises to be successful in
southwestern Arizona and the warmer portions of California.
Work with it was first started at the Florida Experiment Station
in 1915. Since that time it has been grown cooperatively or
distributed in small lots for planting in many widely separate
sections of the State.
Since this grass has been given recognition as an important
crop in agriculture, many common names have been suggested
for it. In South Africa it is known as Elephant grass or
Napier's Fodder grass, while in the United States,it is most
widely and correctly known as Napier "grass. JIn Florida the
name "Carter grass" has been associated with some extent.
The name Napier grass has, however, been generally adopted in

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

other sections of the .United States; and as a means of avoiding
future confusion it is best to adhere to this name, which was
the one originally applied to it in this country. The name
"Napier grass" is especially appropriate since it was thru the
enterprise of Col. Napier of South Africa that its agricultural
value has been established.


Napier grass is a rank growing cane-like perennial. It grows
to a height of from 6 to 12 feet or more, depending upon the
fertility of the soil and other general conditions under which it is
grown. The plants tiller extensively, forming clumps with many
coarse, leafy stalks. (Fig. 123.) Un'der favorable conditions
and where the plants are not crowded, as many as seventy-five
or even one
hundred or
'iI more stalks
may be pro-
ie n duced by a
S i i single plant.
Such large
clumps a re
unusual, b u t
an average of
from one to
two dozen
stalks f r o m
each plant is
not uncom-
mon. The
Fig. '123.-Napier Grass growing in Jackson County t. 1 k or
canes are erect growing and leafy. When nearing maturity
these canes produce yellow, millet-like seed spikes varying from
4 to 10 inches in length. Prior to seeding many fine, erect
growing: branches are produced from the leaf axils of-the main
stems. These branches, which occur singly, bear terminal seed
spikes.' Hence it is possible for a single cane to yield as many as
ten' or more seed heads. At the Experiment Station the seed
heads have usually apljeared during the latter part of October,
the first seed maturing in the early part of November.

Bulletin 153, Napier and Merker Grasses

This grass may be propagated from joints or cuttings of the
canes, from divisions of the root clump, or from the seed. The
mature canes should be cut in the fall before danger from killing
frosts, and banked over winter after the method commonly
practiced in handling Japanese cane or sugar cane. The factors
entering into the preservation of Napier grass canes are not
well known. A lot of Japanese cane, Napier grass, and Merker
grass canes were "banked" in November 1918 at the same time
and under similar conditions. These were examined in January
1919, a little more than two months after banking. The Japanese
cane appeared to. be in a perfect state of preservation, while
many of the "eyes" of both the Napier and Merker grasses were
discolored and apparently dead. Work should be done to estab-
lish the best methods of handling these canes. In the latitude of
Gainesville it is probably best to harvest the seed canes about
the first week in November, while farther south it may. not be
necessary to cut until a little later in the season. It should be
kept in mind that a killing frost will injure the buds, rendering
the seed canes inferior or even worthless for planting. In the

Fig.- 124.-"Single Eye'" Napier Grass Cuttinris'

Florida: Agricultural Experiment Station

milder portions of the State the practice of planting direct to
the field at the time of cutting has given satisfactory results. In
preparing the canes for planting, cuttings of one or more joints
should be made. Cuttings containing more than one joint should
be dropped horizontally in shallow furrows and covered to a
depth of from 4 to 6 inches. Where this method of planting is
practiced top and root growth will both proceed from each joint,
whereas cuttings set with one joint above and :one below the
surface will strike root only at the lower node. At the present
time it is not always possible to obtain seed canes in quantity,
and it is sometimes desirable to adopt a system that will insure
the maximum number of plants from a limited number of canes.
Under these circumstances single eye cuttings may be success-
fully used. These are prepared by severing the canes with a
slanting cut about an inch below each joint. The ground intended
for planting should be plowed and thoroly harrowed to eliminate
air spaces and prevent the cuttings from drying out too rapidly.
Single eye cuttings are planted with very little difficulty. The
operation of preparing it provides.a sharp point (see fig. 124)
at the lower end of the cutting; and this is simply thrust obliquely
into the ground to a depth of 4 or 5 inches. With canes in good
'condition, and other factors favorable, both roots and sprouts
will be sent out from the single joint arid a good vigorous plant
soon established. If desired the large root clump may be taken
iup and divided into several parts, each of which is capable of
producing an independent plant.
Napier grass seeds- freely in Florida. At Gainesville it has
produced mature seeds as early as the first week in November.
-Many of these seeds will germinate if planted, and the practice
Sof propagating plants by this method would seem entirely practi-
cable, at least while there are not enough seed canes available
to meet the demand. A germination test started at the Experi-
ment Station on January 16, 1919 with seed collected on Novem-
ber 5, 1918 resulted in 68 percent growth. The seed of this grass
is light and fluffy (see fig. 125) and should not be covered too
deeply. By merely covering them in well pulverized soil and
exercising care to insure a constant supply of moisture, they will
germinate in four or five days. In ordinary farm practice the
seed may be sown in "seed flats" or shallow boxes small enough
to be convenient in handling. The seedlings will be ready for
transplanting to the field when about 6 inches high. Under
favorable conditions seedlings of this size can easily be grown in

Bulletin 153, Napier and Merker Grasses 241

five weeks from the time the seeds are sown. In 6 foot rows
and with 3 feet between plants, 2420 plants will be required to
plant an acre; if spaced 4 feet apart 1815 plants will be needed
to plant the same area. The seedlings grow readily after trans-
planting and may be set as rapidly as cabbage plants. The long
blades should be pinched back severely at this time, and such
precautions taken as are usually observed in transplanting tender,
succulent plants of this type.
Whatever method of propagation is employed, the planting on
soil of average fertility should be made in rows 6 feet apart with
spaces of 3 or 4 feet between plants in the rows. On poor
ground closer plantings may prove satisfactory, while on highly
fertile soil these distances should be increased.

Fig. 125.-Napier, Grass Seed; showing a comparison in size with a five-
.cent piece

Napier grass is not as exacting in its soil requirements as are
many of our better known forage crops. It seems to be about
equal to Japanese cane in its ability to grow successfully on a
wide range of soil types. In general, any soil that will produce
good yields of Japanese cane may also be expected to grow
satisfactory crops of this grass. In both South Africa and New
South Wales where it is grown as a cultivated crop, it thrives
comparatively well on rather poor land, tho it responds to in-
creased fertility. This tendency has been observed in its behavior

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

in Florida, where it has proved itself able to grow on soils of
only moderate fertility. But like most other heavy yielding
crops, it succeeds best on good rich ground. It can not continue
indefinitely to yield heavy crops on a light soil without some
provision for restoring the plant food removed by the crop.
This is, of course, a general principle, and is equally true of
most non-leguminous crops. As Napier grass is of tropical
origin it succeeds well during hot summer weather. It also
makes good growth during the cool autumn season, but the canes
will be killed back by the first frost. The roots, however, are
hardy as far north as Charleston, S. C., and these will send out
new growth upon the advent of warm weather.
The grass is also said to possess drouth resistant qualities in
a marked degree, but it will thrive best where soil moisture is
not lacking. Growing under natural conditions in Tropical
Africa, it shows a decided preference for soils abounding in
moisture. As having an important bearing on this subject the
following quotation from the Kew Bulletin, 1912 appearing in the
Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, July 2, 1917 is of
especial interest. In a discussion of this grass as found in a
state of nature in Tropical Africa the author says:
"It occurs along watercourses and in marshy depressions, but
also enters the bush and forest where open spaces afford suf-
ficient light. ... .In rich marshland it attains a height of
21 feet, while in drier soils it only grows 6 feet high."
During the past year Napier grass has received considerable
advertisement thru parties who have become enthusiastic over
its possibilities in Florida. In some cases over enthusiasm has
led to error and exaggeration and the impression has become
more or less prevalent that this grass will produce very large
crops on practically any type of land and that it requires little
or no cultivation. This belief is based upon a misapprehension.
Plantings made in many parts of Florida during the past year
indicate that results will vary directly with the fertility of the
soil, and that as thoro cultivation will be required as is necessary
to produce a good crop of Japanese cane. The Experiment Sta-
tion conducted a series of cooperative tests among farmers during
the summer of 1918 in which this and various other grasses
were planted on a small scale. These plantings were located in
twenty widely separate sections, from Dade and DeSoto counties
in 'the south to Escambia in the northwest: The'various soil
types of the State have also been well represented in these plant-

Bulletin 153, Napier adid Merker Grasses

ings. In summarizing the results of this work Napier' grass was
found to succeed in all parts of the State when planted on a
reasonably fertile soil and given good care and cultivation. It
has done well on good pine land and flat wood soil, and on rich
muck land it made remarkably vigorous growth.
Fig. 126 shows Napier grass growing on the muck land farm
of R. F. Houston of Okeechobee county, who planted it in co-
operation with the Florida Experiment Station on January 11,
1918. Only six small root divisions were planted. The photo-
graph 'was taken from the end of the row and shows but one
plant, the end one. At the time this photograph was taken,
August 22, 1918, the plants were 12 to 14 feet high, and were
seeding nearly two months earlier than they did at Gainesville.

We have comparatively little definite information on the yield
of feed from this crop in Florida. However, where conditions
are favorable there seems to be no other crop that will excel it
in the production of green feed. One test made at the Experi-
ment Station within the past year yielded at the rate of 19.5
tons to the acre. Another planting made at a different time and
u n d e r somewhat different
conditions gave a crop weigh-
ing at the rate of 39.1 tons of
green feed to the acre. These '-
results were obtained as a
first crop from newly broke
good pine land without fer-
tilizer. In these tests the
canes were allowed to mature
to be used as seed canes and
the harvest was limited to
a single cutting. A consider-
'able increase in the total
yield for the season might
have been expected if the
usual practice of cutting two
or three crops had been; fol-
lowed. Two tests made under
government auspices in New ,Fig. 126.--Napier- Grass growing on
South Wales resulted in imuck land in Okeechobee Couinty

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

yields of sixteen and twenty-five tons respectively after a period
of four months from the time of planting. Many other reports
of large yields have been received from various sources. In
actual practice, however, it will usually be found that like most
other crols the yield will vary widely, depending upon the
character of the soil, the nature of the season, and the general
treatment given the crop. Still enough has been learned to
justify the belief that Napier grass will produce more tonnage
per unit area than any other forage crop known to grow in
Florida, with the exception of Merker grass. Two other ex-
ceptions, those of pearl millet and teosinte, might possibly bp
made to this statement. However both of these are annuals and
the ideal conditions required to produce maximum yields are so
rarely met with that they need scarcely be mentioned.

This grass affords great promise as a soiling crop. It grows
very rapidly and may be cut when 4 or 5 feet high, supplying a
heavy yield of green fodder. In nutritive value and palatability
Napier grass is probably not excelled by any similar non-le-
guminous feed. When cut at this stage of maturity the stubble
is in a tender growing condition. This tends to promote a quick
and vigorous ratoon growth and insures a maximum number of
good cuttings during the growing season. In the extreme south-
ern part of the State the crop will continue to grow thruout the
year. It
seems es-
pecially suit-
ed as a green
feed for
dairy ani-
inals, as its
high content
of protein
and its de-
cidedly pal-
atable n a -
ture render
i t valuable
in a milk
pro in Fig. 127.-Napier Grass 3Y2 feet high 48 days after plant-
ration. ing from root divisions


Bulletin 153, Napier and Merker Grasses

.As a soiling crop Napier grass should be cut while young and
succulent. This is not only important in encouraging subsequent
ratoon growth but it also insures a green feed of the highest
quality. As the stalks advance towards maturity they tend to
become hard and woody and many of them will be refused by
stock. In this stage the feed will be eaten more readily and
with less waste if cut into small pieces by running thru a feed
cutter. In New South Wales this grass is claimed to make a
splendid quality of hay if cut when 3 or 4 feet high and properly
cured. Just how valuable it may be for silage and as a pasture
crop is not yet known. The mature canes contain a high percent
of woody fiber, and this might reduce their value for silage.
On the other hand if the canes were cut when too young and
succulent, it would seem probable that a soft, washy silage with
high acidity might result. These problems must, however, be
solved by experiment. It has been suggested that with a multiple
lot arrangement, light rotation grazing might be satisfactory. Na-
pier grass is unusually high in feeding value, tho, as has been
pointed out above, the mature growth shows a comparatively
high content of fiber. In Table No. 2, the composition of green
Napier grass is compared with that of green corn, sorghum,
Japanese cane and Para grass.
Green .Fodder from
(1)' "(1) (2) (1) (3) (4)
Nutrients CornSorghu Japa- Para Napier Napier
Corn Sorghum nese Grass iGrass Grass
Percent Percent cane Grass Grass Grass
Percent Percent Percent Percent
Water ............ 78.1 75.1 70.40 72.8 61.81 65.84
Ash ...........-.... 1.2 1.4 .60 2.4 2.92 2.68
Protein ............... 1.9 1.5 .45 1.7 2.92 3.58
Carbohydrates .... 13.0 14.0 21.40 13.4 17.29 14.13
Fat ....:................. .6 1.0 .60 .5 .29 .53
Fiber .................. 5.2 7.0 6.55 9.2 14.77 13.24
(1) Taken from Henry and Morrison's Feeds and Feeding.
(2) From Florida Experiment Station Bulletin No. 105 and converted
to terms of green feed containing about normal percent of water.
(3) From Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, Vol. XXVIII,
page 460.
(4) From Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales, Vol. XXVIII,
page 457.
The analyses in Table No. 2 show that Napier grass compares
very favorably in feeding constituents with any of our common
non-leguminous forage plants. The only objectionable feature

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

brought out in this comparison is the rather high percent of fiber
in Napier grass. These figures indicating the composition of
Napier grass represent the results of two separate analyses.
Another analysis of a Florida grown sample of the cured Napier
grass was made in the laboratories of the State Chemist at Tal-
lahassee and published in the Tampa Tribune on November 25,
1917. This analysis is used in Table No. 3 to contrast the cured
feed of Napier grass with alfalfa and timothy-two standard
hays on the markets of the United States-and Crab grass, Natal
grass, and Rhodes grass, some of the most important Florida
grown hays. Napier grass hay is here shown to contain a greater
percentage of protein than any of the other non-leguminous hays
included in this table, tho the amount of this constituent is not
as great as in alfalfa hay.

Cured Hay,
Nutrients (1) (1) (1)
Timothy Alfalfa Grass




Water .................. 11.6 8.6 9.5 9.8 9.9 9.35
Ash ..................... 4.9 8.6 8.5 5.0 7.6 9.92
Protein ................ 6.2 14.9 8.0 7.4 7.3 11.32
Carbohydrates .... 45.0 37.3 42.9 39.2 44.6 41.06
Fat ...................... 2.5 2.3 2.4 1.8 1.4 2.15
Fiber ..................... 29.9 28.3 28.7 36.8 29.2 26.20
(1) Taken from Henry and Morrison's Feeds and Feeding.
(2) Annual Rpt. Hawaii Experiment Station 1909, page 58-59.
(3) Analysis made in laboratories of the State Chemist, Tallahassee, and
published in the Tampa Tribune, November 25, 1917.

(Pennisetum merkeri)
In 1916 the United States Department of Agriculture first
introduced this new grass into this country from South Africa.
A little later the Aggeler and Musser Seed Company of Los
Angeles, Cal. obtained some of the seed from Australia and
listed it in their annual seed catalogue for 1918 under the
name "Australian Giant Grass". The Florida Experiment Sta-
tion obtained a "start" of this grass from the Department of
Agriculture at Washington; and our first small planting was
made on March 29, 1917. In 1918 a small quantity of seed was
secured from the Aggeler and Musser Company and seedlings
from this lot were planted in the field on April 3 of that year.
Like Napier grass this is a rank growing can4like -but non-
saccharine plant of the mrillet group. 'The two grasses'are

Bulletin 153, Napier and Merker Grasses

closely related and bear a striking resemblance, to each other.
In growth they are about equally vigorous, while their soil.and
cultural requirements and the means by which they are pro-
pagated seem to be practically identical. But they possess some
distinguishing features, notwithstanding their striking similar'-
ity. At Gainesville, Napier grass does not seed until late in the
season. In 1918 seed spikes of the latter were first observed
on October 17 and appeared simultaneously in a third year ratoon
crop, and in two original plantings made on March 27 and May
18 respectively. Contrasted with these late seeding tendencies
Merker grass may seed early in the summer. A plot of Merker
grass carrying its first ratoon crop in 1918 bore a light crop of
seed in May and June, and begun bearing a late and heavier
crop on August 26. Plants grown from seed sown March 5 and
those from seed cane plantings of April 5 produced no summer
crop but commenced seeding heavily on August 26 and Sep-
tember 23 respectively. In the southern part of the State this
distinction is not well marked, as Napier grass will seed much
earlier than it does at
Gainesville. The leaves of
Merker grass seem to be a
little more numerous, more
narrow, and more erect .
than those of Napier grass,
while the stalks of the
former usually carry a lit-
tle more of the white waxy
bloom than do those of the
latter. It is also claimed
that Merker grass remains
green longer in the fall.
This habit has not been
clearly demonstrated at the
.Experiment Station, tho
single rows and isolated
'clumps have indicated such
The seed from which the
Merker grass shown in Fig.
128 was grown were sown
in a "seed flat" on March
Fig. '128.-Merker Grass growing at the
5, 1918. The seedlings were Florida Experiment Station

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

4 or 5 inches high when planted to a permanent field location
twenty-nine days later. On June 10 the plants stood from 3
to 5 feet high, and, if to use as a soiling crop, should have been
cut. The entire crop was grown for seed canes and yielded at
the rate of 16.12 tons per acre when it was cut on November 20.
There was a wide variation observed in the character of the
seedlings-from low and spreading to an upright habit of growth.
There was also a great difference in the tendencies towards leafi-
ness. A good opportunity is afforded for effecting an improve-
ment in the type of this grass thru the ease of both seed and
vegetative propagation.
Like Napier grass Merker grass grows readily from the seed.
A germination test of the seed of these two grasses was recently
made at the Experiment Station. The seed, which was grown
on the Experiment Station grounds during the year 1918, showed
a viability of 68 and 51 percent for Napier and Merker grass
respectively. The difference shown in these results is probably
due to a chance superiority in the quality of Napier grass seed
used in the test. From the standpoint of production there is
probably little or no difference in the two grasses. It seems to
remain to future work to decide whether either one possesses
any distinct advantages over the other. In general appearance
they are not easily distinguished.


Napier grass is a native of Tropical Africa and was first
introduced into this country by the U. S. Dept. Agri. in 1913.
It has numerous synonyms and has been known in different
parts of the world under such names as Elephant grass, Napier's
Fodder grass, Zinyamunga, Carter grass, and Bamboo grass.
Napier grass is a rank and vigorous grower, attaining a
height of from 6 to 12 feet or more. It bears long millet-like
seed spikes.
It grows readily from seeds, root divisions, or cuttings of
mature canes. It promises to grow successfully in that territory
embracing all Florida and the southern- section of Mississippi,
Louisiana, and Texas, southwest Arizona including the Salt
River Valley, and certain portions of California.
The green feed is highly palatable and contains a relatively
high percent of protein. However, if allowed to stand too long

Bulletin 153, Napier and Merker Grasses 249

before harvesting the canes develop a high content of woody fiber
and its palatability is reduced.
It thrives best on a moist fertile soil, but will succeed com-
paratively well on rather poor land and will withstand con-
siderable drouth.
Merker grass was first introduced into the United States by
the U. S. Dept. Agri. in 1916 from South Africa.
Merker grass and Napier grass are much alike in general
characters and agricultural value.

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