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SOLUTION 5

Tall wheatgrass

 

5.1  Tall wheatgrass in a nutshell

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A quick summary

NOTE - the Future Farm Industries CRC's own weed risk assessment has determined that Tall Wheat Grass poses a 'very high' environmental weed risk in Victoria and is therefore now not recommending its use in this state.  It is also considered a high risk in Tasmania. In particular the species should not be placed in any areas close to waterways nor be left ungrazed so it can set seed.

Tall wheatgrass (Thinopyrum ponticum) is a temperate perennial grass which tolerates soils of moderate subsoil salinity (ECe values of 4–8 dS/m) and moderate waterlogging. It has been widely used as a saltland pasture in south-west Victoria and the upper south-east of South Australia, often in a shotgun mix with puccinellia and with balansa and strawberry clovers.

Though a warm season grower, tall wheatgrass is not a sub-tropical species, and so it is not frost sensitive, making it well suited to southern Victoria and South Australia. Tall wheatgrass can produce significant biomass given sufficient summer moisture. It is strongly tussock forming and can quickly become clumpy and unpalatable to livestock if not well managed. In addition, the clumps or tussocks can become so large as to make a paddock almost untrafficable. If allowed to run up to seed it can spread and colonise areas where it is unwanted, particularly along watercourses.

The two common tall wheatgrass cultivars Dundas and Tyrell have similar yields and salinity tolerance across a range of saline soils in western Victoria. Dundas is a selection from within Tyrell for enhanced leafiness and quality. Dundas is the recommended variety for reasons associated with quality for livestock, and minimising the risk of spread as an environmental weed.

Research indicates that mature plants of tall wheatgrass have relatively similar salinity tolerance, but lower waterlogging tolerance, than puccinellia. The lower persistence of tall wheatgrass at waterlogged sites in South Australia supports this theory as shotgun mixtures of pasture seed segregate. Puccinellia persists on the lower lying, waterlogged areas while tall wheatgrass persists on the slightly higher ground and prevents undesirable species such as silver grass (Vulpia spp) establishing. Tall wheatgrass is more persistent and productive at better drained sites.

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History

Tall wheatgrass is one of those species that has changed its Latin name a number of times. It has been variously referred to as Agropyron elongatum, Thinopyrum elongatum, Elytrigia pontica, Elytrigia elongata and (most recently) as Thinopyrum ponticum.

Tall wheatgrass was imported into Australia via the USA in the 1940s from lines originally collected in northern Turkey. Its main value then was for soil conservation on saline areas. To ensure good ground cover, landholders were encouraged to allow it to seed in the first year of growth, but this led to its spread as a weed into non-target areas.

Interest in animal production led to the development of a new variety - Dundas - which was bred at Hamilton, Victoria, for forage quality from the naturalised Australian variety - Tyrrell - and 2 US varieties. The nutritive value of tall wheatgrass had been called into question in the 1990s, but researchers were able to show in trials across the state that Dundas provides a significant improvement in digestible dry matter yield. Visit the Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture website for details of the research.

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Identification

Tall wheatgrass is a spring/summer active perennial grass, well suited to land affected by moderate subsoil salinity and moderate waterlogging - See Figure 5.1. It has long, blue-green ribbed leaves that are quite tough and is sometimes mistaken for Demeter fescue (which is a darker and glossier green). Tall wheatgrass can send up seed stems to 2 metres and the plants form thick clumps which, if allowed to grow unchecked, can make traffic very difficult. It is often noticeable in late summer as the only green grass on salt affected land. SALTdeck cards assist with the identification of the 50 most common saltland species. These can be viewed on this website or they ordered from the Land Water and Wool website.

Figure 5.1 – The two sides of the SALTdeck card to assist with the identification of tall wheatgrass

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