Two drought-tolerant grasses from ARS researchers in Logan, Utah, fight erosion and will help wildlife and cattle stay well fed on western U.S. ranges.
Scientists at the ARS Forage and Range Research Unit put Douglas crested wheatgrass through 10 years of breeding and testing in several western states. Vavilov crested wheatgrass was 15 years in the making.
Both varieties, available for the first time last year to rangeland researchers and commercial seed companies, thrive in some regions of the Great Plains and the Intermountain West. These wheatgrasses will not crowd out native plants.
They're bred to provide spring and autumn forage at sites up to 7,500 feet altitude. Douglas needs at least 10 inches of rain a year; Vavilov, an excellent performer on sandy soils, can survive with only 8. Both grasses develop strong root systems that help hold soil in place.
The grasses grow about 3 feet tall. Douglas is very leafy, and its leaves stay green longer than those of many other crested wheatgrasses, according to plant physiologist N. Jerry Chatterton. These traits are a plus, he says, "because animals like the leaves best, not the stems."
Douglas' origins are Iran, Turkey, and the former Soviet Union. The researchers named the plant after ARS colleague Douglas Dewey, a world authority on wheat-grasses. Dewey died in 1993.
Vavilov crested wheatgrass, a Siberian type with some Turkish parentage, honors Nikolay I. Vavilov, a Russian scientist who identified the centers of origin of cultivated plants and established one of the world's most important collections of plant seeds.
The Logan researchers distributed an initial supply of the wheatgrass seed last year, and more will be available this fall. Plant breeders may contact the Logan lab; commercial seed producers should call Stanford Young at the Utah Crop Improvement Association in Logan, (801) 797-2082. Some seed may be on sale at dealers in time for fall 1995 planting.
Douglas and Vavilov are the work of Logan scientists Kay H. Asay, Kevin B. Jensen, W. Howard Horton, Douglas A. Johnson, and Chatterton, in collaboration with the Utah State Agricultural Experiment Station and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. — By Marcia Wood, ARS.