Rhodes grass (Australia, United States, Africa), pasto Rhodes (Peru).
A glabrous, usually stoloniferous perennial up to 90 cm high, but very variable.
Inflorescence up to 15 spikes, occasionally in two whorls, but usually one. Its roots
descend to 4.7 m; 47 m of roots occur in the first 30 cm3 of soil, but they are sparse
beyond 2.4 m (Hosegood, 1963).
Native to Africa, introduced to the United States in 1902 and now widely grown in
Season of growth
Spring and summer.
600-2 000 m in the equatorial zone, lower to the north and south (Bogdan, 1969);
sea-level to 500 m in Queensland.
It grows best in the 600-750 mm rainfall area and Russell and Webb (1976) gave its
range as 691-1 597 mm. It is widely used in irrigated pastures in Israel and the United
Good. Rhodes grass roots can extract water to a depth of 4.25 m.
It grows on a wide range of soils, but may have some establishment problems on acid
soils. It prefers loose-textured loams of volcanic origin.
Ability to spread naturally
Excellent. It produces stolons which creep over the ground, rooting at the nodes, and
also produces abundant seed to give rise to new plants.
Land preparation for establishment
The better the seed-bed preparation the better the establishment, although a rough
ploughing will help provide some plants from which to slowly build a sward. In Australia
most seed is aerially sown into ashes left after a scrub burn.
Aerial sowing into ashes one week after a fire is usual. Drilling seed through a
modified seed drill mixed with sawdust and sown through the fertilizer box with the
delivery chutes removed is another method. Seed can also be undersown in maize, thus
giving good grazing after the maize is harvested.
Sowing depth and cover
It is sown on the surface, or no deeper than 2 cm, and covered by rolling or with a
bush or a light metal harrow. Mulching after sowing with up to 5 000 kg/ha of hay has
significantly increased herbage production in Zimbabwe (Smith, 1966).
Sowing time and rate
It should be sown into ashes as soon as the ashes have cooled and just ahead of the
normal wet season. Severe erosion of ashes and loss of seed will result if a storm occurs
over sloping sown land before the seedlings stabilize the soil. Seeding rate is 1-4 kg/ha.
Number of seeds per kg.
7 250 000 to 9 500 000 most cultivars 4 250 000 for cv. Katambora.
Seed treatment before planting
Treat the seed with lindane dust, 20 percent dust at 1 kg per 80 kg of seed, if
seed-harvesting ants are prevalent.
Tolerance to herbicides
It can be killed by cultivation or a heavy spraying with paraquat at 570 ml of a 200 g
AI/l product (e.g. Gramoxone) per 200 l water plus surfactant at 250 ml/200 l water. Spray
until the solution runs off the leaves (Tilley, 1977). Pre-emergence treatment with
atrazine at 1 and 4 kg/ha severely affected emergence of Chloris gayana and the 4 kg/ha
treatment also adversely affected survival after emergence on Mywybilla clay on the
Darling Downs, Queensland (Scateni, 1978).
Excellentbetter than Makarikari grass (Lloyd, 1970).
Vigour of growth and growth rhythm
Growth commences early in the spring. A newly sown field will be ready to graze four to
six months after planting and reaches its highest production in the second year. Feeding
value is low at flowering.
Response to defoliation
Rhodes grass stands a good deal of defoliation, but in Israel, Dovrat and Cohen (1970)
showed that in irrigated and fertilized fields, dry-matter production was some 50 percent
higher at 28-day cutting intervals than at 14-day intervals.
It should be allowed to establish and then grazed to prevent flowering, as the
nutritive value declines rapidly toward maturity. Fertilizer nitrogen should be added as
necessary, or farmyard manure applied.
Response to fire
Rhodes grass usually recovers well after a fire.
Dry-matter and green-matter yields
In Zambia, Rhodes grass alone yielded 58 000 kg DM/ha. Under irrigation in Texas, a
yield of air-dried herbage of 15 775 kg/ha was recorded, cv. Callide yielded 6 084 kg/ha
cut at 50 days, 11 350 kg at 90 days, 11 817 kg at 153 days and 14 157 kg at 188 days. The
leaf percentages were 52, 28, 30 and 20 percent respectively and nitrogen in the dry
matter 1.4, 0.78, 0.52 and 0.50 percent. In south-west Australia, a yield of 23 639 kg/ha
was obtained from an irrigated Rhodes grass pasture treated with three dressings of
fertilizer at eight-week intervals during the summer (November to April), each dressing
providing 56, 22 and 45 kg/ha of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, respectively (Roberts
& Carbon, 1969).
Suitability for hay and silage
It makes quite good hay if cut just as it begins to flower or a little earlier. Old
stands give low-quality hay. Silage has been made successfully in Nigeria, Zambia and
northern Australia, but generally it does not give satisfactory silage (Catchpoole, 1965).
Value as a standover or deferred feed
It can be used as low-quality roughage in conjunction with urea-molasses licks.
No toxicity has been recorded in Australia. Ndyanabo (1974) recorded 0.44 percent total
oxalic acid in the dry matter, but no toxicity in India.
robust with thick stems, long awns (6-9 mm) and a long tuft of hairs at the awn
base. Drought resistant and productive. In Kenya it is known as 'Mpwapwa', in Tanzania as
'Kongwa', and in Australia as cv. Callide. It is a tetraploid. It flowers from January to
May in Queensland.
originating from the banks of the Zambesi River, Zimbabwe, it is leafy, dense-
growing and a good seed producer. It suppresses nematodes in soil. It is a diploid and
flowers from January to May in Queensland.
from Uganda. Somewhat stemmy, very productive, and gives the highest seed yield and
has high seedling vigour.
the first Rhodes grass introduced to Australia. It is early flowering and hence of
lower nutritive value. It flowers from November to May in Queensland.
not a cultivar but a regional group of types in the Rongai area near Nakuru, Kenya.
Drought-resistant and stemmy.
of African origin. Very leafy and has good seed yields but is susceptible to
Helminthosporium infection and hence has low persistence.
introduced to Australia as CPI 16144 in 1952 from Musaia, Sierra Leone. A tetraploid
(2n=40) with vigorous stolon development, it flowers late in Australia (April-May), is
less frost-tolerant than 'Pioneer' and responds well to nitrogen. Its seed production is
good and its palatability outstanding, even in the mature dry state (Barnard, 1972).
a single plant selection from the Pokot district in Kenya. Leafy and vigorous, high
yielding and late-flowering.
first introduced into Kenya as 'Endebess' but later renamed 'Masaba', it is leafy
and productive but seed production is affected by smut.
suited to the drier areas of Kenya.
The cultivar Nzoia is susceptible to Helminthosporium and cv. Masaba is affected by a
Its wide adaptability, ease of establishment, persistence and early nutritive value.
The short season of nutritive peak in many cultivars.
Optimum temperature for growth
Ivory (1976) recorded 30/26°C to 40/29°C day/night temperatures, Russell and Webb
(1976) suggested a range of 16.9 to 22.3°C, and Bogdan (1969) suggested 35°C. Ludlow
(1970b) found growth at 30°C was 5.85 times greater than at 20°C for cv.
Minimum temperature for growth
Ivory (1976) determined the critical mean temperature for growth as 8°C. Russell and
Webb (1976) gave the mean temperature for the coldest month for Rhodes grass at 2.6 to
12.4°C. In the USSR minimum temperatures of-10°C and in Texas, United States, of -9.4°C
have been recorded, but there is usually no growth below 0°C. Ivory (1976) recorded -2.6
It can survive sub-zero temperatures. In Uruguay it survived the intense and repeated
frost of 1942 (Bogdan, 1969). Plants usually survive and grow the next season. On the
Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia, it was one of the most frost-tolerant grass species
during its first winter, with cv. Pioneer having 97 percent survival (Jones, 1969).
A range of 18-33.4°N and S with a mean of 25.7° (Russell & Webb, 1976).
Response to light
It does not grow well in shade.
Ability to compete with weeds
Rhodes grass is of prime importance in pasture mixtures for the brigalow (Acacia
harpophylla) scrub soils in Queensland because of its vigorous early growth after the
scrub has been burnt. Rhodes grass seed sown in the ashes helps suppress sucker regrowth
unless suckers are well established before the Rhodes grass, in which case it cannot
Maximum germination and quality
required for sale
60 percent germinable seeds and 50 percent purity in Queensland. Germinate at 20-30°C
moistened with water. Germination is increased by exposure to light.
In Uganda thrips have damaged Rhodes grass seed.
Young growth is very palatable, but after the plants have seeded they are less
Response to photoperiod
Optimum day-lengths are ten to 13 hours (Bogdan, 1969).
Chemical analysis and digestibility
In Rhodes grass the contents of organic compounds usually vary as follows: crude
protein 4-13 percent, crude fibre 30-40 percent, ether extract 0.8-1.5 percent,
nitrogen-free extract 42-48 percent (Bogdan, 1969). In Australia crude protein increased
from 6.3 percent unfertilized to 9.5-9.8 percent when fertilized with 440 kg N/ha. Sodium
chloride content may be high. Digestibility is usually 40-60 percent of the dry matter.
Göhl (1975) recorded seven sets of analyses.
Open woodland and grassland on a wide range of soils.
Tolerance to flooding
It tolerates seasonal waterlogging, but is killed by root submergence over 30 cm
(Colman & Wilson, 1960).
Rhodes grass rarely gives a response to potash, gives an increased response to
phosphorus in some areas and usually a spectacular linear response to nitrogen in the
presence of adequate phosphorus and potassium, both in yield and in crude protein content.
Split applications after each cut or after grazing cycles are better than one basic
application with the usual rate of 275-400 kg/ha. The critical value for phosphorus as a
percentage of the dry matter at the immediate pre-flowering stage is 0.23.
Compatibility with other grasses and
Rhodes grass does grow with legumes, though experiences have been erratic. In Zambia,
when grown with Stylosanthes guianensis, yields were increased by about 20 percent and
with Neonotonia wightii the increase was nearly 100 percent. In Kenya Medicago sativa and
Trifolium semipilosum also stimulated yields (Bogdan, 1969). In Australia there has been a
tendency to grow Rhodes grass and Medicago sativa separately but Christian and Shaw (1952)
showed that M. sativa at two to four plants per m2 enhanced Rhodes grass production on a
black clay soil.
Genetics and reproduction
2n=20, 30, 40 (Fedorov, 1974). The diploids (2n=20) include cvs. Pioneer and Katambora
and the tetraploids (2n=40) include cvs. Callide and Samford. Breeding and selection aim
at plants that are leafier and late flowering. Rhodes grass is cross-pollinating.
Seed production and harvesting
Rhodes grass seed matures 23-25 days after flowering. It is a short-day plant and may
flower over a long period making seed harvesting difficult and also reducing its nutritive
value. A harvesting cycle of 60-70 days gives seed of better viability and spikelets with
a higher caryopsis content (Humphreys, 1973). In cv. Mbarara anthesis is completed in
three weeks. Seed is harvested with a combine with a threshing drum operating at 1 100-1
400 rpm and the blast reduced to prevent loss of seed. Harvest ten to 14 days after
"smoking" (pollination) has ceased. The crop can also be cut with a reaper and
binder a little earlier and the seed cured in the field before threshing, or the heads
stripped off with a stripper harvester. The seed must be subsequently cleaned. Hand
picking is satisfactory for small areas, and this seed needs minimal cleaning. The seed
should be stored carefully. Its viability lasts for up to two years with mature seed
(Jones, 1973) but rarely past the first year for immature seed. Pure seed plots should be
isolated by 30- 60 m.
Rhodes grass has been used as a short-term pasture ley in East Africa, the United
States and Australia where it restores soil structure and provides organic matter.
In Kenya, live-weight gains in cattle were 382 kg/ha in the first year of Rhodes grass
growth, 228 kg/ha in the second, and 167 kg/ha in the third. In Zimbabwe, Rhodes grass
fertilized with 220 kg/ha superphosphate + 440 kg/ha ammonium sulphate supported five
steers per hectare for four months of peak growth in summer while they gained 117 kg/head,
or 234 kg/ha. When only 220 kg/ha of sulphate of ammonia was used, the stocking rate had
to be reduced to 2.5 steers/ha for the same level of live-weight gain (Bogdan, 1969). In
Zimbabwe, Rhodes grass fertilized with 270 kg and 38 kg P/ha gave live-weight gains of 230
kg/ha from a stocking rate of 12.4 heifers per hectare (Rodel, 1970).
Value for erosion control
It effectively controls erosion when well established. It is rather tall and needs
management by light grazing or hay production. Cv. Katambora establishes and covers
rapidly and persists well even at low fertility.
Tolerance to salinity
Excellent. A "salt-pan" strain comes from the salt-pan near Hammanskraal,
Pretoria, where it flourishes on the bottom of the pan, in granite soil impregnated with
brine (Chippendall, 1955). In Italy it grows on land previously under saline water, and it
grows on saline soils in Mississippi, United States. It is tolerant to CaCl2 and NaSO4,
less so to NaNO3 and NaCl, and sensitive to MgCl2 (Bogdan, 1969). In the Sudan C. gayana
seed germinated in soil containing 0.4M NaCl (Abd el-Rahman & El-Monayeri, 1967).