Native Herbaceous Perennial – Used for biomass in addition to soil stabilization on strip mine spoils and dikes and in buffer strips for nutrient update; provides pasture and hay for cattle and sheep; a source of food and cover for wildlife.
Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, is the most productive and commonly talked about native, warm season grass being considered as a feedstock for alternative fuels and sustainable fiber. There are a number of studies claiming significant energy returns using Switchgrass as a solid fuel in the form of switchgrass pellets or as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. Having evolved for centuries everywhere in North America east of the Rocky Mountains, its C4 metabolic pathway makes Switchgrass extremely efficient with its use of water and nutrients. Additionally, Switchgrass tolerates a wide range of growing conditions, allowing the potential to turn marginal, under-utilized farmland into productive, agricultural ground.
Habitat – Open woods and meadows; pH 4.5-7.5.
Characteristics – A rhizomatous, warm season, bunch grass; grows from 4’-6’ tall; 12” minimum root depth; full sun; moderate drought tolerance; moderate salt and acid tolerance; blooms from July to September in the northern U.S.; June to October in the southern U.S.
Seeding Rate – 8 PLS lb per acre alone; 10%-20% of a mix; approx. 259,000 seeds per lb
Traditional Switchgrass Varieties – State of Origin
- ‘Alamo’-TX – lowland type; a standard performer in southern states for biomass production.
- ‘Carthage’-NC – upland type; quality forage and good biomass producer.
- ‘Cave-In-Rock’-IL – upland type; good biomass producer; a favorite for reclamation and wildlife.
- ‘Kanlow’-OK – lowland type; performs well in wet, marginal soils in southern and central states for biomass production.
New Switchgrass Varieties
- ‘BoMaster’ – lowland type; genetically selected variety developed jointly by the NC Ag Research Service, NC State University and USDA, Ag Research Service, for biomass production.
- ‘Colony’ – lowland type; genetically selected variety developed jointly by the NC Ag Research Service, NC State University and USDA, Ag Research Service, for biomass production.
- ‘Performer’ – lowland type; genetically selected variety developed jointly by the NC Ag Research Service, NC State University and USDA, Ag Research Service, for livestock forage.
- ‘Shawnee’ – selected for improved forage quality and biomass yield in the Northeast and Midwest.
- ‘Timber’ – lowland type; released by the USDA NRCS, Somerset, NJ, and Rutgers University-Agricultural Experiment Station, New Brunswick, NJ, as a Mid-Atlantic biofeedstock/biofuels crop.