What Phalaris subspecies is Russian Grass?

Russian Grass is which Phalaris subspecies?

Russian Grass is which Phalaris subspecies?

Here is what is known:

Tracing the origin of the South African Phalaris strain:

What are the South African Russian Grass F1 Hybrids?

Reasons for the Phalaris F1 Hybrid cross:

What is the invasive risk of a C3 Phalaris strain in C4 dry land summer rainfall conditions?

What is the secret to succesful establishment and maintenance of  F1 Hybrid C3 Russian Grass?

Here is what is known:

The Russian Grass that is common in South Africa is a minor subspecies from the Russian Steppe that is not widely commercialised. It has a wider leaf, larger seed head and more vigorous summer growth persistence than the winter rainfall Phalaris species that have been commercialised the last 85 years. The South African Russian Grass subspecies is a decreaser species, palatable, perennial and it differ somewhat from the main commercial species of Phalaris Arundinacea (Reed Canary Grass) and Phalaris Aquatica. We know that the Russian Grass subspecies is in the genus Phalaris but the exact subspecies we are in process of identifying.

image00This is the Lampies line of Russian Grass as it is known in South Africa. It comes from the Torr line –and it is the most widely used strain in South Africa, forming the cornerstone of the Merwe Mans, Edward Jackson and Paul Horn genetics. This strain is very popular in the arid Northern Cape region. Some of the first people to get it to bear seed did so in Harrismith in the Eastern Free State and in Namibia, although the exact trigger of Cross pollination was not well understood.


Tracing the origin of the South African Phalaris strain:

A visiting French scientist confirmed to grass identification expert Frits van Oudshoorn (the author of the widely popular grass identification manual “the Grasses of Southern Africa”) recently that the two most common species of commercialised Phalaris (Phalaris Aquatica and Phalaris Arundinacea) did not occur naturally in Russia in the 1930’s. This mean it cannot be either of these two subspecies that were smuggled into South Africa in the 1930’s as they did not occur there. They also differ somewhat from the Russian Grass subspecies of South Africa.

image02South African Phalaris subspecies.

The Russian steppe origin of the local subspecies is well documented, and it appears that over the last 85 years the South African Phalaris strain has become more summer rainfall adapted, with lots of plantings in challenging places such as the Northern Cape.

image01These are the most common Phalaris areas in the world.

image04This is a list of the Phalaris Subspecies with DNA lineage lines as they evolved. We know that the Russian Grass subspecies that came from the Russian steppe occurred naturally and widely in the 1930’s in Russia and that it has not been widely commercialised. It is probably one of the naturally and widely occurring Phalaris subspecies of the Russian steppe that has adapted to South African Summer rainfall conditions over 85 years through a process of natural selection.

image03Further Phalaris genetic lines and their further evolutionary development. This knowledge laid the foundation for creating a F1 Hybrid maximising hybrid vigour using the summer rainfall South African Phalaris strains as its foundation.  

image06We are in a process to identify the exact South African subspecies origin by crossing the Russian with the local Phalaris strain. The one showing the least amount of hybrid vigour will be the most probable origin of the original import.

What are the South African Russian Grass F1 Hybrids?

The South African F1 Hybrid we are creating and registering the worldwide Plant Breeders right for is a F1 cross maximising the in species local South African hybrid vigour; as well as the in genus Phalaris Hybrid vigour. This process is currently underway and being refined.

Reasons for the Phalaris F1 Hybrid cross:

  1. We wish to retain the character of the 85 year adaption process of the local strain. The winter rainfall varieties of Phalaris struggle in summer rainfall areas and cannot be established dry land. The locally adapted strain survives dry land conditions better because of its wider leaf surface area catching more dew early in the morning.
  2. We do not wish to propagate vegetatively but need sexual procreation via seed. The locally adapted strain was mainly propagated vegetatively.
  3. We require the maximum heterosis/hybrid vigour in order to fight off competition from dominant summer rainfall grasses and annual weeds. At present it is challenging establishing the F1 hybrid cross in dry land conditions due to summer grass species competition and annual summer weed competition. We specifically wish to have a fighting chance against Panicum Maximum (White Buffalo) and Cynodon dactylon (kweek).
  4. We require more persistence and vigour in breaking out from under a clay layer after germination.
  5. We require a faster bounce back effect after broadleaf Herbicide application especially against Olieboom/Datura annual weeds.

image05The locally adapted strain of Phalaris has a wide leave and appear able to make use of early morning dew moisture in dry land conditions.

image09The South African F1 Hybrid can be established in dry land conditions when planted in a deep ripline so that it has a longer period of time to make use of early morning dew with its wide leaves before the wind and sun burns the moisture off. A double wing ripper throws a soil ridge on adjoining summer grasses killing them and allowing easy establishment. The key to successful first year establishment using 1 kg of seed is the F1 Hybrid vigour, plus the maximum moisture harvesting of early morning dew and the water concentration in the ripline with widely spaced rainfall intervals.

image07Double wing ripper for establishment of F1 Hybrid Russian Grass in existing summer grass pastures. The wings place the soil from the ripline on top of the displaced upside down summer grasses and kills them. This creates a summer grass free zone with maximum available moisture, out of the wind, in shade early morning, when the micro climate enables the F1 hybrid to establish. Without these unique competitive advantages it no longer takes 1 kg of seed per ha but requires 5-10 kg of seed ha to establish successfully.

image12The Maximised in species and between subspecies Hybrid vigour allows the F1 Hybrid to break through a hard clay topsoil bank in summer rainfall conditions. Although there might be subsoil moisture the hot summer sun bake the topsoil to form a near impenetrable clay bank layer. Only the strongest plants can break out through this sun baked clay layer and survive.

image10F1 Hybrid genetics hand sowed at 5 kg ha the first week of February

image11The same stand March 31 with broadleaf Herbicide being applied against Olieboom infestation

image13The Russian Grass F1 Hybrid was yellow and put back by 2-3weeks after the broadleaf herbicide application. The hybrid vigour helped the F1 Hybrid bounce back very aggressively.

image14The same F1 genetics stand 23 April.

image15Direct seeding dry land March 22

image16Russian Grass seedlings 1 May after 2 x 30mm rainfall events dry land in heavy clay with intense heat

image17Russian Grass being established vegetively

image18Peak reproduction 2 years later under irrigation conditions. Once the irrigation stopped..

image19Intense annual weed and summer grass competition another 2 years later in dry land conditions. It is the better adapted C4 summer grass and summer weed competition that prevent C3 grasses such as Phalaris from becoming invasive. They are easily outcompeted in dry land conditions.

image20Russian Grass under supplemental irrigation in Northern Cape

image08The very same land in dry land conditions with heavy kweek/Cynodon dactylon infestation 2 years later. The Russian grass had been heavily overgrazed by selective grazers (sheep).

What is the invasive risk of a C3 Phalaris strain in C4 dry land summer rainfall conditions?

We have consulted with Frits van Oudshoorn and industry experts and the consensus seem to be that the chance of a F1 Hybrid Phalaris becoming invasive in summer rainfall C4 conditions are low to ultra low. Better adapted summer grasses and weeds outcompete winter grasses and the chance that it will become invasive is very low, as per the photo’s. Simply put, the summer grasses are much better adapted, and the F1 hybrid vigour spike only last a single generation. Once established, the F1 Hybrid loses hybrid vigour and even if setting seed it is outcompeted by adjacent summer grasses. It requires unique establishment conditions, as per the photo’s in order to become established, and when these conditions are no longer in place it survives, but does not spread easily. At best it maintains the stand.

Furthermore,the high level of predation by grazing animals in the dry season pro rata to the winter grass severely attenuate the invasive risk. It is very unlikely that any winter grass such as Russian Ryegrass or Phalaris will become invasive under moderate summer rainfall conditions. When high levels of selective grazers are present in the dry season, a C3 decreaser grass is mor elikely to diminish due to severe overgrazing than to increase or even maintain its stand.

What is the secret to succesful establishment and maintenance of  F1 Hybrid C3 Russian Grass?

  1. Appropriate F1 hybrid genetics with maximum hybrid vigour.
  2. Appropriate micro climate conditions such as in a ripline furrow with high sidewalls for early morning dew moisture harvesting.
  3. Lack of annual weed and summer grass competition.
  4. Good rainfall intervals during establishment, water concentration/harvesting in the ripline and shallow subsoil moisture in dry season within reach of the taproot.
  5. C3 winter grasses utilize a special ecological niche in summer rainfall conditions – when it exploits the dormancy of more vigorous adjacent summer pasture grasses in order to provide winter grazing. It needs to be carefully managed with preferably rotational grazing and a good rest period between grazing cycles.

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