Index | Search | Home

new crop logo

Lolium perenne L.

Perennial ryegrass

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Toxicity
  5. Description
  6. Germplasm
  7. Distribution
  8. Ecology
  9. Cultivation
  10. Harvesting
  11. Yields and Economics
  12. Energy
  13. Biotic Factors
  14. References


An important cool-season bunchgrass, widely used in mixtures for pasture, lawns, hay and erosion control. Particularly important for medium to long- grazing leys and permanent pastures. Although nutritious and palatable, hay is only moderate in quality. Widely cultivated for perennial winter pasture. Not recommended alone for lawngrass.

Folk Medicine

Casually used in folk remedies for cancer, diarrhea, hemorrhage (Duke and Wain, 1981), and malaria (List and Horhammer, 1969–1979).


The green grass contains 26.6% DM, hence 73.4% H2O, 3.0% CP, 1.3% fat, 6.7% fiber, 13.2% NFE, 2.4% ash (Ca, 0.12%; P, 0.07%; K, 0.51%). The hay contains 12% H2O, 88% DM, 9.2% protein, 3.1% fat, 24.2% fiber, 43.4% NFE, 8.1% ash. The seed contains 87.0% DM, 13.0% H2O, 2.1% fat, 8.9% fiber, 62.4% NFE, and 4.2% ash. The grass is a good source of carotene (4.8 mg/100 g). It contains free fructose, fructosan, mannitol, a complex mixture of oligosaccharides; oxalic-, citric-, malic-, and shikimic- acids, glycerides, and a wax containing hexacosanol (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). Seeds, comparable to oats in nutritive value, contain a prolamine and a gluten similar to wheat gluten.


Three alkaloids are reported. Peroline (C40H34O7N4). The major alkaloid is mildly toxic to mice and may induce facial eczema in cattle which ingest it. Perlolidine (C25H18O2N4) and a liquid base, C6H7N, are also reported (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). The grass may be quite toxic when ergotized. Perhaps weekly estrogenic (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976; List and Horhammer, 1969–1979).


Perennial, 8–90 cm tall; loose to densely tufted, short-lived, glabrous, forming dense tufts when grazed; culms erect, spreading, decumbent or rarely prostrate, sometimes rooting at lowest nodes, slender, usually with 2–4 nodes below spike; basal leaf-sheaths, green, reddish, purplish, often straw-colored in age; upper sheaths commonly green, glabrous; leaf-blades folded in young shoots; mature blades acute, attenuate, or somewhat rounded at apices, usually less than 14 (-30) cm long, 1–6 mm broad, many-nerved (usually about 20), glabrous and shiny below, glabrous above, margins glabrous to scaberulous; ligules rounded to truncate or erose, up to 2.5 mm long; auricles present or absent, minute, up to 3 mm long; spikes straight or slightly curved, 3–31 cm long, bearing 5–37 spikelets; rachis slender, often flexuous, about 0.6–2.5 mm thick at nodes; spikelets lying against concavities of rachis, 5–22 mm long, 1–7 mm broad, containing 5–9 fertile and none to 1 rudimentary florets; rachilla segments somewhat flattened, usually 0.7–2.0 mm long; glumes lanceolate or narrow-oblong, rounded on backs, thin or thickened, acute or obtuse, 3- to 9- nerved, 3.5–15 mm long, 0.7–1.5 mm broad, glabrous; lemmas oblong or ovate, rounded on backs, obtuse, acute, slightly bifid, or erose at hyaline aspices, 3- to 5-nerved, 3.5–9 mm long, 0.8–2 mm broad, glabrous or glabrate; awns usually absent, or 8 mm long, subterminal; paleas similar to lemmas in size and shape, up to 1 mm shorter than to slightly longer than lemmas, acute or obtuse; keels with minute teeth; anthers linear, 2.0–4.2 mm long, 0.3–0.7 mm broad, yellow, whitish or purplish; mature caryopses 2.9–5.5 mm long, 0.7–1.5 mm broad. Seeds 440,000–585,000/kg.


Reported from the Eurosiberian and Mediterranean Centers of Diversity, perennial ryegrass, or cvs thereof, has been reported to tolerate aluminum, bacteria, disease, drought, frost, fungi, grazing, herbicides, high pH, low pH, minespoil, rust, salt, slope, SO2, smut, and viruses (Duke, 1978). Many cvs have been developed by selection of individual plants, clones and families for specific purposes, such as for lawns, pastures and hay. Forms with the inflorescence branched or with proliferating spikelets sometimes occur. Lolium perenne x L. multiflorum, a short-rotation rye-grass, 2n = 14, forms natural hybrids readily. Also it hybridizes with Festuca pratense Huds. as Festulolium loliaceum (Huds.) P. Fourn., a natural hybrid frequent in old pastures in England. Many cvs have been developed; some are the following: 'Barenza', developed in Holland is very late heading, good tillering, high-yielding, diploid, good persistence and winter hardiness; used in many countries for pasture, athletic fields and course turf. 'Linn', developed in Oregon, one of the best Oregon perennial types, with good seed yield; 'Manhattan' (Reg. No. 18), developed in New Jersey, is leafy, late-flowering, persistent, turf-type, producing good density; 'Massa', developed in Holland, late-heading, rust-resistant, tetraploid, erect in habit, dark green, providing abundant growth and very good regrowth, not suitable for lawns; 'NK Experimental K9-124', 'NK-100' and 'NK-101', produced by Northrup, King & Co. in Minnesota, all improved cvs for winter persistence and rust resistance. 'Norlea' developed in Ontario, has good winter hardiness, considerably outyields other cvs in forage and seed production, useful as turf grass, susceptible to leaf-rust in some areas; 'Petra', 'Reveille' and 'Taptoe', developed in Netherlands, adapted to pasture and hay, mainly developed tetraploid types, with good rust resistance and winter hardiness; 'S-23', 'S-24', 'S-101', developed in England, mainly used for pastures and hay, can stand grazing. 'NZ H-1' ryegrass, persistent and suitable for short-rotation grazing leys (2–3 years), very palatable, long-growing season, makes considerable growth during winter in New Zealand, and is also included in mixtures for permanent or long-rotation pastures to increase production during the first two seasons. (2n = 14)


Native to temperate southern Europe, North Africa and temperate southwest Asia. Introduced in North America, South America, New Zealand and Australia, becoming naturalized in waste places and cultivated fields. On all continents and many islands.


Adapted to mild, humid temperate climate. Less drought resistant than Dactylis glomerata and less cold-resistant than Phleum pratense. Grows best on rather heavy, rich, moist soils, but does well on well-manured lighter soils with sufficient moisture, pH 6–7. Medium salt tolerance. Reported from Boreal Moist to Wet through Subtropical Thorn to Moist Forest Life Zone, perennial ryegrass tolerates annual precipitation of 2.1–17.6 dm (mean of 81 = 8.2), annual temperature of 4.3–23.7°C (mean of 81 = 11.4), and pH of 4.5–8.2 (mean of 72 = 6.3) (Duke, 1978, 1979).


Propagated by seed. For long rotation or permanent pastures, best to use long-lived pasture strains. Short-lived strains possibly never productive in first years and tend to die out, permitting invasion by weeds and low-producing grasses. Seed from old permanent grassland consists mostly of long-lived leafy types, and can be used in place of the bred pasture strains. Seeding rate varies with the area, climate and purpose for which used. In New Zealand, rate 20–30 kg/ha broadcast; in Europe, 10–20 kg/ha drilled, 6–20 kg/ha broadcast; in United States 20–25 kg/ha broadcast. Seed rate in combination with clovers 12–28 kg/ha. Optimum temperature for germination 20–30°C, with prechilling of seed at 3.5–10°C. Row spacing 20–60 cm. Responds well to fertilizers: in United States, 40–100 kg/ha N; in Europe, 100–130 kg/ha N; in New Zealand, P2O5 and Ca added at sowing time plus 200–300 kg/ha N. Plants are vigorous, rapidly establishing grass; combines particularly well with white clover. Apt to crowd out other more slowly developing grasses, such as meadow fescue, before they become established.


Tolerates heavy grazing, but does not persist in meadows cut regularly for hay. Growth starts early in spring and remains green through summer if moisture is favorable. Pasture-hay strains start later and are heavier in tillering, more persistent and much more leafy than commercial, producing good aftermath after hay cut.

Yields and Economics

Average seed yields 400/kg/ha in New Zealand; 350–600 kg/ha in England; 700–1000 kg/ha in United States and Netherlands. An important pasture, hay and turfgrass, widely used in many parts of the temperate regions of the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.


Duke (1981b) cites biomass yields of 5–25 MT/ha/yr, 8–10 in Australia, 8–11 in Belgium, 20–25 in Czechoslovakia, 13 in Germany, 10 in New Zealand, 14 in Poland, 17 in Romania, 5–15 in UK, and 8–10 in USSR. In United Kingdom, apart from timber, whose productivity is quite well known, perennial rye grasses, lucerne and clover may be considered as herbaceous perennial energy crops. In the absence of definitive yield information an average yield of 17.5 MT/DM/ha/yr and an energy content of 17.5 GJ/MT and a harvesting cost of $75 per hectare are assumed (Palz and Chartier, 1980).

Biotic Factors

Fungi reported as attacking this grass include the following: Alternaria tenuis, Ascochyta graminicola var. brachypodii, A. lolii, Chaetomium globosum, Ch. indicum, Claviceps microcephala, C. purpurea, Colletotrichum graminicola, Corticium fuciforme, Didymella exitialis, Diplodinia lolii, Erysiphe graminis, Fusarium acuminatum, F. avanaceum, F. culmorum, F. equiseti, F. roseum forma cerealis, Gibberella zeae, Gloeotinia temulenta, Griphosphaeria nivalis, Helminthosporium sativum, H. siccans, Hendersonia culmicola, Leptosphaeria culmorum, Ovularia lolii, Ligniera pilorum, Mycosphaerella loliaceae, Phialea mucosa, Ph. temulenta, Puccinia coronata, P. coronifera, P. glumarum, P. graminis and vars., P. lolina, P. rubigo-vera, Pyrenophora lolii, Rhizoctonia solani, Rhynchosporium orthosporum, Rh. secalis, Sclerotinia borealis, Scolecotrichum graminis, Septoria agropyri, S. tritici var. lolii, Sorosporium lolii, Stromatinia temulenta, Tilletia levis, T. lolii, T striaeformis, T tritici, Urocystis bolivari, Ustilago bromivora, U. striiformis. It is also attacked by the bacterium Pseudomonas coronafaciens var. atropurpurea and by the parasitic flowering plant Cuscuta pentagona. Nematodes isolated from this grass include the following: Ditylenchus radicicola, Heterodera avenae, H. major, H. bifenestra, Meloidogyne javanica, M. naasi, Pratylenchus penetrans, P. pratensis P. zeae, Rotylenchus goodeyi, Tylencholaimus brevicaudatus, T. proximus and T. stecki.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw