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SOLUTION 7

Vegetatively established grasses

 

7.1 Vegetatively established grasses in a nutshell

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A quick summary 

Some saltland pasture species need to be planted vegetatively from either segments of stolons (surface stems – runners) or rhizomes (underground stems). The important saltland species for which this occurs are: Sporobolus virginicus (marine couch), Paspalum vaginatum (saltwater couch) and Distichlis spicata (Distichlis).

All the vegetatively established grasses in this saltland solution have tolerance to high salt concentrations and high levels of waterlogging.

Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum) can also be established in this manner or from seed. Kikuyu is less salt tolerant than the other species listed above and is therefore of less importance for saltland. It is not considered further in this Saltland Solution, but is discussed in Saltland Solution 9 – Sub-tropical grasses with limited salinity tolerance.

Plants are established vegetatively for two possible reasons:

  1. the plants show poor germination from seed, or
  2. the desired genotype is a clone and can only be established from other vegetative material.

The planting of material from vegetative sources is quite expensive per hectare, making this method most suited to small areas of saltland, or where time is not critical so sparsely spaced plants can be established and allowed to spread gradually, filling in the gaps over time.

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History 

Marine couch is a halophytic perennial grass with a world-wide distribution ranging from tropical to temperate latitudes. A small amount of work was conducted on this species in Western Australia in the early 1950s but there is little knowledge of this.

Saltwater couch has been transported extensively around the world for two reasons. It was initially used as bedding in the bottom of slave ships as they moved between Africa, North, South and Central America and the Caribbean islands. It was later introduced into salt-affected areas as a forage. The plants were introduced into SA from South Africa in 1935. By 1945, it was being used in WA for similar purposes.

In an investigation of plant adaptation to saline soils near Laidley in the Lockyer Valley, Queensland, marine couch and saltwater couch (established vegetatively) were amongst the best adapted plants and saltwater couch is widely used on saltland in Queensland. For more information, see On the ground: Managing salinity near Barmoya.

Distichlis. Distichlis is the genus name of three cloned plants that were introduced into Australia by the American Company NyPa International in the 1990s. NyPa coined the terms ‘NyPa Forage’, ‘NyPa reclamation’ and ‘NyPa turf’ to describe these plants. Of these plants, ‘NyPa Forage’ has been best studied under Australian conditions, and this clone is now commercially available through Elders. The plant has been extensively studied and evaluated in a RIRDC Project and information is available from the NyPa website.

There is also a native species Distichlis distichophylla or ‘Australian saltgrass’ which is listed as endangered in NSW. Australian saltgrass is a spreading perennial grass, in the form of a loose, prickly clump of spreading underground stems (rhizomes). The foliage is distinctive, with a row of thin stiff leaves to 50 mm on each side of the stem. It often grows with a similar-looking grass Sporobolus virginicus, and is best-distinguished in summer when in flower or fruit.

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Species identification 

The vegetatively established saltland species are all quite similar in that they are creeping, relatively fine-leafed grasses that spread via rhizomes (stems creeping along below the soil surface) or stolons (stems creeping along the soil surface) and often have both. This similarity is highlighted by the fact that while marine couch (Figure 7.1) and saltwater couch (Figure 7.2) are from different genera, they are both called ‘couch’ and have the typical couch or turf-grass habit. The flower heads are more distinctive, making identification during summer and autumn easier.

SALTdeck has been produced to assist with the identification of the 50 most common saltland species. These can be viewed on this website.

Identification of the individual species is not important if a farmer is transferring the vegetative material from one site where it might be growing well, to a similar site, and this is the most common form of propagation. Distichlis is available as a commercial product (called NyPa Forage), again reducing the need for farmers to be able to distinguish between these very similar plant species. This species has a much more erect form (Figure 7.3) and significantly stronger stems than marine or saltwater couches.

Australian saltgrass (Distichlis distichophylla) and kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum) have been included in the SALTdeck series but are not featured here as they are less likely to be used as a saltland pasture.

Figure 7.1 - SALTdeck card showing the photo and text sides for marine couch.  

Figure 7.2 - SALTdeck card showing the photo and text sides of saltwater couch 

Figure 7.3 - SALTdeck card showing the photo and text sides of Distichlis spicata.

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