Rhodes grass

Material Information

Rhodes grass
Series Title:
Bulletin University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station
Rolfs, P. H ( Peter Henry ), 1865-1944
Place of Publication:
Gainesville Fla
University of Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
p. [181]-190 : ill. ; 23 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Rhodes grass -- Florida ( lcsh )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


General Note:
Cover title.
Bulletin (University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station) ;
Statement of Responsibility:
P.H. Rolfs.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
025449826 ( ALEPH )
18162137 ( OCLC )
AEN3264 ( NOTIS )

Full Text

Bulletin 138


Agricultural Experiment Station




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

June, 1917

Introduction ............-..---- ....- --.. ..----.....- --. 183
Testing at the Experiment Station .......-........-...-- ...----. 183
Winter-Killed in 1912.................-..-..--.........------. 184

Withstands Short Cold Periods When Soil Is M
Seed Saving ..........--..---------------------
Yield of Hay .......................-.... ...
Regions in Which to Try Rhodes Grass ...-.........
Time of Sowing- ... .............---
Preparation of the Soil .---...........-...... -...
Kind of Soil--... ----..... ... ---. --
Character of the Grass .................. ...
Composition of Rhodes Grass Hay -.....-...- ...--.. ---
Uses for Rhodes Grass --.....-.........--......-..-
Acknowledgment .........-----...

oist ... 184
----- 185
-...... -- 186
....--.....-. 187
..--....... 187
--..... 188
-.....-- 188
....-------.. 188
..-.....-. 189
-..-. 189
......--- 190


I. Rhodes Grass is a promising pasture and hay grass for
II. It is a rapid grower and will make two or three good
cuttings for hay a year in Central and South Florida.
III. The stand is likely to be injured during adverse winters
but its habit of producing rattoons enables it to cover
the ground rapidly.
IV. Well tilled moist lands, such as flatwoods and drained
lands, have given the greatest yields.
V. The greatest difficulty so far encountered has been that
of getting good seed.
VI. It is apparently equal to timothy and crabgrass in feed-
ing value.


The value of this grass was discovered by Cecil Rhodes,
whose name it bears. This was about 1895, at Cape Town,
South Africa. March 8, 1903, Messrs. Lathrop and Fairchild
secured a small quantity of the seed and forwarded it to the
U. S. Department of Agriculture. At that time Dr. Fairchild
wrote, The grass has done well there [Mr. Rhodes' farm near
Cape Town] forming a heavy sod of good herbage, and the
manager of Mr. Rhodes' farm has had the seed collected and
distributed among the planters of the colony, by whom it is
called 'Rhodes Grass'. From what I saw of these patches on
the slopes of a hillside, I do not believe it is a drought resistant
form; at least it is not able to withstand very severe dry
weather. it need be tested only in the frostless or nearly
frostless regions." This seems to have been the first time this
grass seed was brought into the United States and tested for
forage purposes.

In 1909 a larger amount of seed was obtained by the Office
of Seed and Plant Introduction. On April 6 of that year a
small packet of about an ounce was sent to the Experiment
Station by Prof. C. V. Piper, Agrostologist, Bureau of Plant
Industry. On April 12, 1909, one-half of this seed was sown
in a flat in the greenhouse. On April 15 the seedlings were
showing above the ground. On April 28 these seedlings were
transplanted to the grass garden. The other half of the seed
was sown directly in the grass garden on April 15. On May 5
these were coming up and by June 5 some plants were 6 inches
tall. On July 2, 1909, both rows were sending up seed stalks
and were about equally vigorous. On August 3 seed had
ripened and was saved- The grass at this time was about 4
feet tall. No cuttings were made from these plots, as it was
desired to get as much seed as possible. On December 10, 1909,
the temperature went down to 28 F. The grass passed thru
this without injury. During the latter part of December the
temperature went down to 17 F., and all the leaves were killed
to the ground. February 4, 1910, green shoots began to come
out and by April 5 it had recovered sufficiently to make good
grazing. The first cutting was made June 26, when the stalks

Bulletin 138, Rhodes Grass

stood from 11/2 to 3 feet tall. On September 1 it again stood
about 3 feet tall and a second cutting was made. On October 1
it was again about 3 feet tall. On the 30th of October the
temperature went down to 320 F., without injuring the grass.
On December 3 the temperature went down to 230 F. killing off
all the leaves, but the roots were uninjured. On February 23,
1911, we experienced a temperature of 250 F., killing back all
growth made, but not injuring the roots materially. By April
7, some of the plants were 15 inches tall, and by the middle of
the month were sending up seed stalks.
During the summer of 1911 the growth was better than
during 1910. The stalks reached a height of 4 feet. A cutting
for hay was made as late as October 24.
During the winter of 1911-12 we had comparatively little
freezing weather. The lowest temperatures occurred on Decem-
ber 30 and on January 16. The thermometer went down to
290 F. on the former date and to 250 on the latter date. Nearly
all the plants of the 1909 sowing were killed. It is probable
that the late cutting left the plants weakened and the removal
of the leaves exposed the stools too much, or it may be that
the warm moist winter caused the roots to be less resistant
to cold.
During 1911, enough seed was furnished by Prof. Piper to
sow about one-third of an acre. This was sown August 12,
and a fair stand obtained, but the winter of 1911-12 proved
very severe on it. The stand being quite imperfect, the field
was plowed and re-sown. In the fall of 1912 and the spring
of 1913 more seed was secured from commercial sources, but
this all proved to be very low in germinating quality.
During succeeding years experiments were continued to test its
adaptation to various kinds of soils and the effects of cold
weather. The effects of cold varies greatly under varying
moisture and temperature conditions. The winter of 1911-12
was particularly severe on the plants though not excessively
cold at any time. The rainfall was rather light and the tem-
perature went below 25 F. several times, but not below 20 F.
In the winter of 1916-17 there was a well distributed rainfall
and an excessively low temperature. The lowest record being
170 F. on February 3. The roots lived thru the winter and

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

l' Pl W T _I y- _. *K-1* /-C

Fig. 74.-An experimental plot of Rhodes grass at Gainesville.
made a fair growth during March. This experience indicates
that Rhodes grass may survive a temperature of 17 F. if
abundance of moisture is present and the cold of only short
duration-a week or so-as was the case in 1917, while fre-
quent cold spells, when the soil is rather dry, are likely to
prove killing even when the temperature does not go much
below 250 F. A temperature of 260 F. is likely to kill the
plants to the roots, while a temperature of 32 F. is not likely
to damage the tops materially.
Seed has been gathered from our test plots from time to
time. This has been found to keep well and have a good germ-

Bulletin 138, Rhodes Grass

inating quality. It seeded abundantly and the seed is harvested
quite readily tho not as easily as the seed of timothy and some
other good hay grasses. It would seem possible for persons
located in regions where this grass grows readily to produce,
profitably, all the seed needed. No difficulty has been en-
countered so far in the matter of producing and saving the
seed. It matures quite uniformly in the head and holds fairly
well against shattering. The grass with ripened seed may be
cut and bound into convenient sized bundles. This is then
cured in the most convenient way. After the bundles have been
thoroly dried the seed can be easily beaten out. This way of
saving seed will suffice for experimental test, but for commer-
cial purposes machinery will have to be used to eliminate much
of the costly hand labor.
Mr. E. W. Amsden, of Ormond, wrote us on November 4,
1912, that he cut a piece 40 by 60 feet, from which he got
fourteen sheaves. From two of these sheaves he pounded out
an eight-quart pan level full of seed, weighing from a pound to
a pound and a half- An acre at this rate would have yielded
over one hundred pounds of seed. These figures are based on
too limited data to be made a basis of calculation, but serve in
a general way as an index of what may be expected under
favorable conditions. The imported seed, received mainly from
Australia, has been sold at $1.00 to $1.50 per pound. The seed
is very light, weighing only about 71/2 pounds per bushel.

Very large yields of hay were secured during the summer
of 1912. The very low germinating quality of the seed sown in
1913 has greatly discouraged the extensive planting of this grass.
Reports of enormous yields have been published from time
to time. It has been sufficiently tested to show that much larger
yields of Rhodes grass hay can be produced annually in Florida
than is possible from grass in the hay-producing states. "There
are authentic reports of total yields per season of six tons per
acre of well-cured hay secured from three cuttings, the first
cutting being made in May, the second in July, and the third
in September." (Yearbook, 1912, page 498, U. S. Dept. Agric.)
In South Florida on the drained lands it has made an especi-
ally fine showing as a forage and hay grass. In some instances
extremely large yields of hay have been produced. The cold
weather in this region is rarely sufficient to damage it and in

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

many localities good grazing may be had from it at all times of
the year. It is especially valuable in this section during the
winter when it affords an abundance of succulent grazing.
Other grasses, such as Para and Carib are more affected by
the dry and cool weather
In Queensland, according to the Agricultural Gazette of New
South Wales, for April, 1911, as much as five and one-third
tons of hay per acre have been produced in a year.
According to the Annual Report of the Arizona Experiment
Station, it has been tested there for six years and there passed
a temperature of 17' to 200 F. without injury, but it is not
recommended as an arid region grass. Under irrigation it
produced one and a half tons of hay at each of two annual
It should be tested by all farmers of Florida in an experi-
mental way. It has been generally successful in the region
from Gainesville southward. Those farmers who are in a
position to do so should try it on a one to five acre extent. In
the region from Gainesville northward and westward it would
be advisable to try it on a smaller scale. In a general way, in
those places where the winter temperature does not go below
23" or 22 F., this grass may be sown with a fair prospect of
not having the roots winter-killed.

In Central and South Florida it would seem advisable to sow
during October and November, or during February, March or
April. The seed is very small and consequently the seedlings
are weak. It germinates quickly under favorable conditions.
Under perfect conditions we found that seed sown on April 12
was coming up on the 15th, and on the 28th the seedlings were
large enough to transplant to the test plot. A sowing in the
test plot made on March 15, 1912, gave grass four feet tall by
June 25, and was ready for the first cutting approximately one
hundred days from time of seeding. The following year, 1913,
the grass on these plots was ready for making into hay on
May 1.
If the soil is in first class condition, seed sown in October or
November will become well established before winter and give
early spring pasturage, or an early crop of hay.

Bulletin 138, Rhodes Grass

In South Florida on the drained lands it may be sown at
any time of the year, but preferably from October to March.
At this time of the year the seedlings are less liable to be smoth-
ered by weeds and native grasses.
In North and West Florida, the seed should be sown in the
spring after the soil has become warm enough for corn planting.
This will give sufficient time to get two or three mowings for
hay and also some late fall pasturage. During favorable winters
the grass may live thru and be useful for pasturage in the spring
and for haying during the summer and fall.

It should be remembered that this seed is much smaller than
either oats or rye, and consequently the seed bed will need much
more careful preparation. The land should be plowed deeply
and thoroly. The surface should be left as nearly level as
possible. After the plowing has been done the field should be
leveled further by the use of a smoothing harrow or plank. The
seeds should not be sown until sufficient moisture is near the
surface of the soil to cause them to germinate quickly and to
grow strong seedlings. On compact soils it is usually sufficient
to go over the land a time or two with a weighted plank. This
will cover the seed a half inch or less. On the more fibrous soil
a roller will be better. The points that must be borne in mind
are that enough moisture must be near the surface of the soil
to germinate the seed and then the moisture must be held there
until the seedlings have become established.
The best crops have been produced on the best farm lands.
Good hammock land with a clay foundation will be found ex-
cellent. These occur in many parts of the State, especially
around Brooksville. Fine crops have been produced at St.
Augustine, Ormond, Dunedin and Miami, where there is less
clay in the soil. Many excellent crops have been grown on well-
drained lands.
The general character of the plant is nearly ideal. The for-
age and stalk grow upright, making it easy to mow. It does
not bunch or tangle in mowing. The plants stool out very
much like timothy. In addition to the stooling it also produces
rattoons that root at the joints and form new plants, these

Florida Agricultural Experiment Station

again stool like the parent plant. These rattoons will some-
times grow as much as six feet long in a single reason. This
habit of producing rattoons enables the grass to cover the
ground quite completely although the catch from seeding may
be irregular. The Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales
for July 2, 1909, published the picture of a plant grown from
a single seed. At eight months it spread over an area of four
feet, three inches in diameter.
Rhodes grass can be easily killed by ordinary farm methods.
It has no underground rattoons and dies readily when plowed
up, so no one need fear that it will ever become a farm pest.
It does not spread rapidly from seed under natural conditions-


Moisture Protein Fat Nitrogen-free Crude Ash Amid
Extract Fiber N.

Rhodes Grass*.. 11.8 6.1 2.3 42.5 30.2 7.2 0.21
(2 analyses) 9.9 7.3 1.4 44.6 29.2 7.6 0.20
Crab Grass**.... 10.3 6.9 1.6 41.0 32.9 7.3 .
Timothy** ....... 13.2 5.9 2.5 45.0 29.0 4.4

Hawaii Report, 1908, pp. 58-59.
** Florida Report, 1909, p. xix.

The protein, fat and nitrogen-free extract are the substances
that are of special value in a feed. The table shows that these
substances are present in Rhodes grass in approximately the
same ratio as in crabgrass and timothy. The selling price of
Rhodes-grass hay should be the same as that of timothy. As a
matter of fact we do not get the best quality of timothy in our
markets, and it is therefore likely that the timothy hay offered
to us is really not as valuable as is good Rhodes-grass hay.

Rhodes grass has been introduced into Florida so recently
that there has been no opportunity to test it out in feeding ex-
periments nor for grazing purposes. It has been tested much
more extensively and thoroly in Australia where it is highly
recommended both as a grazing grass and as a hay grass.
Their stock prefer it to the American paspalum (Paspalum
dilatatum). It is especially useful in the moister regions where

190 Bulletin 138, Rhodes Grass

the temperature does not go much below freezing. In the
dryer regions it does well under irrigation.

Thanks are due to Prof. C. V. Piper, Agrostologist, Bureau
Plant Industry, for supplying much of the seed used in these
experiments. The U. S. Bureau of Plant Industry has distri-
buted packets of Rhodes grass seed to all sections of the State
and has aided the farmers in securing larger quantities of seed
where they wished to try it on an extensive scale. Seedsmen
of the South are now advertising it in their catalogues so that
everyone wishing to do so can try it out for themselves. The
Experiment Station has none of the seed or plants for sale or