Sorghum halepense (L.) Pers.
Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.
- Folk Medicine
- Yields and Economics
- Biotic Factors
An excellent grass for hay and pasture in the southern United States from
Alabama to Texas. Palatable and nutritious when fed early, comparable to
timothy as hay, and when properly fertilized and cut in the boot stage, ranks
next to alfalfa and ahead of oat and soybean hays for feeding dairy cows. A
system of grazing johnsongrass and roughpeas is often used to good advantage.
Elsewhere the seeds are eaten in times of scarcity. Often becomes a
troublesome weed in rich bottomlands and black soils. Sometimes produces
enough cyanogenic compounds to poison grazing animals. Very difficult to
eradicate. In some places the root is used as a substitute for sarsaparilla
Reported to be cyanogenetic, demulcent, depurative, diuretic, poison, and
tonic, johnsongrass is a folk remedy for blood and urinary disorders (Duke and
Per 100 g, the forage is reported to contain 915.5 g protein, 1.83.4 g fat,
34.544.6 g non-fiber carbohydrate, 25.230.1 g fiber, 13.318.5 g ash,
1,2901,340 mg CaO, 490910 mg P2O5 (C.S.I.R., 19481976). Hager's Handbuch
reports that the wild forms contain various quantities of the cyanogenetic
dhurrin (C14H17NO7) as well as b-amyrin. The nutritional values they report
make no sense to me but here they are: 0.3% fat, 1.53% protein, 7.43% starchy
substances, 0.22% glucose, 10.78% cellulose, and 1.94% minerals (List and
Horhammer, 19691979). On the contrary, Miller (1958) reporting on >40
analyses (DM 85.693.7%), found CP ran from 5.515.4% (mean of 41 = 7.7), EE
from 1.33.0% (mean of 41 = 2.1), CF from 28.037.7% (mean of 41 = 33.3%), ash
from 5.911.9% (mean of 43 = 8.8), and NFE 41.351.0% (mean = 48.1), Ca
0.181.06% (mean of 15 = 0.81), P 0.230.49% (mean of 15 = 0.31), K from
1.211.52 (mean of 5 = 1.35), Mg from 0.300.42% (mean of 6 = 0.35%), and
carotene from 3162 ppm (mean of 14 = 37).
Under certain conditions, the plant, if grazed, may cause cyanide poisoning.
The pollen may induce hay fever.
Stout, erect, perennial, spreading by vigorous extensively long-creeping scaly
rhizomes; culms 515 dm tall, sometimes to 3.5 m; leaves numerous; blade long
and slender, less than 2 cm broad; panicle open, 1550 cm long; sessile
spikelet 4.55.5 mm long, ovate, appressed-silky; awn readily deciduous, 11.5
cm long, geniculate, twisted below; pedicellate spikelet 57 mm long,
lanceolate; tip of pedicel on seed knob-shaped. Fl. summerfall. Seeds
Reported from the Mediterranean Center of Diversity, johnsongrass, or cvs
thereof, is reported to tolerate frost, hydrogen fluoride, high pH, heavy soil,
low pH, smog, weeds, and waterlogging (tolerates periodic flooding) (Duke,
1978). In shaded conditions seeds do not germinate and seedlings grow poorly.
In fields, seeds from the current season are believed to have low germination,
while seeds that have lain in the soil for one year will sprout readily. Still
seeds are known to germinate from 15 cm deep, but most seedlings arise from the
top 7 cm. There are at least 55 morphologically distinct vegetative types in
the US alone (Holm et al., 1977). Some cvs of johnsongrass include:
'Mississippi Fine Stem' , developed in Mississippi, produces 130 to 180 culms
per plant, 60120 cm tall, up to 0.3 cm in diameter, the largest culm never
getting as large as allowed in grade I hay; very leafy, relatively low seed
production, used as source material in breeding programs. 'Mississippi
Persistent', developed in Mississippi, produces 80 to 120 culms per plant, up
to 1.6 m tall, 0.30.6 cm in diameter, rather compact base with very slowly
spreading rhizomes, persistent under mowing, withstands 6 clippings in 2 years.
SORGRASS (Sorghum halepense x S. bicolor, including S.
halepense x S. sudanense and S. almum), used for both grain
and forage. The forage types resemble S. sudanense, but may vary in
vigor, coarseness of plant, sweetness and time from seeding to maturity.
'DeSoto', developed in Texas, is vigorous, intermediate in size, with broad
flat leaves, large open panicles and short terminal rhizomes. 'Mississippi
ISJ', developed in Mississippi, a selection from F6 between sorgo and
johnsongrass, producing 2040 culms per plant, 34 m tall, 0.81.3 cm in
diameter, with slowly spreading rhizomes, providing 2 cuttings per year; total
carbohydrate content ca 1014%; seed set approximately 50%, produces extremely
well under irrigation and fertilization. 'Mississippi SJ-2', developed in
Mississippi, selection from F6 made on basis of grass-type habit and
carbohydrate content (ca 14%), very leafy, produces 4090 culms per plant,
11.6 m tall, up to 0.8 cm in diameter, self-fertile and good seed producer,
may be cut twice per season. 'Perennial Sweet', developed in Texas, is a
synthetic tetraploid, with short thick rootstock, a weak perennial, more
profitably grown as an annual, as palatable as Sweet Sudangrass and seed very
similar to it; glumes chocolate to mahogany in color; seeds persistent and
plant mostly tan. (2n = 20, 40)
Native to the Mediterranean regions of North Africa, South Asia, and southern
Europe, extending to Arabia and India. Introduced to many subtropical and
tropical regions of the world. Introduced to United States about 1830 from
Turkey; now naturalized from Massachusetts to Florida, west to Iowa and Kansas
and then southward to Texas and southern California. According to Holm et al.
(1977) johnsongrass ranges as a weed from 55°N to 45°S, reported as a
weed in 30 crops in 53 countries.
Ranging from Cool Temperate Steppe to Wet through Tropical Very Dry to Wet
Forest Life Zones, johnsongrass is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of
0.9 to 42.9 dm (mean of 49 cases = 10.7), annual temperature of 8.3 to
27.8°C (mean of 49 cases = 18.7), and pH of 4.9 to 8.2 (mean of 42 cases =
6.8). Adapted to warm humid summer-rainfall areas in subtropics, not growing
well in strictly tropical areas. Naturalized to rich bottomlands and black
soils, especially in the Cotton Belt in southern US. Common on open ground,
old fields, cultivated fields, and waste places. Adapted to a wide range of
soil types, including upland clay, but seems to do best on porous fertile
lowlands and river bottoms. Does well on heavy clay soils of relatively high
fertility and water holding capacity. Not winter-hardy in cold climates.
Temperatures below 13°C tend to inhibit flowering. Classified as a short
Initially propagated from seed. Should be seeded in early spring on firm,
well-prepared seedbed, as early as December in the South. Seeding rate 1128
kg/ha. Removal of the glume has given 95% germination in some experiments with
dormant seeds (Holm et al., 1977). Sparve stands may be thickened by a
thorough disking in the spring. Also reproduces by the fleshy underground
rhizomes. Under favorable conditions, the rhizomes contain large amounts of
stored food and form the basis for the perennial habit through their capacity
to survive moderately severe winters. An average plant can produce ca 20 m of
rhizomes per season. Most meadows are established naturally following the
gradual spread among cotton and other row crops until cultivation became
unprofitable. To establish a meadow, seed broadcast or drilled in spring or
early summer at rate of 2035 kg/ha. Sometimes sown in mixtures with sweet
clover or roughpeas. Johnsongrass responds to fertilization on most soils,
especially on eroded and depleted ones. Application of N fertilizer up to 1075
kg/ha has been recommended. Economical increases in forage amounting to 9
MT/ha has resulted when N is applied. Planting with a legume is another way to
increase the nitrogen content in soil for johnsongrass.
Johnsongrass is cut for hay when flower-heads are still in the boot
stage.Coarse stems dry slowly and thorough curing is necessary to produce good
hay. Tends to become sod-bound after 23 years and may be renovated by plowing
in spring and overseeding with soybeans, cowpeas, or sweet clover. May be cut
for hay 2 or 3 times/season. Seeds are dormant when first mature and require a
number of months to after-ripen. Even when they do not germinate completely
until alternating cold-warm temperatures are available in a warm area. Most
johnsongrass seed is machine harvested in southern US (Alabama to Texas).
Eradication is sometimes a serious problem. Pasturing has been recognized as
one method to control this grass. Mowing gives much the same effect. Disking
57 times a season is more effective for the seedlings. An average plant
produced from a single seed can produce more than 170 culms, ca 20 m of
rhizomes and 1.7 kg of seed per season, depending on soil fertility, moisture,
and space. Frequent mowing or grazing through the growing season, exhausting
the rootstock, is the best means of eradication. According to the Wealth of
India (C.S.I.R., 19481976), 4-CPA, TCA, Dowpon, and Naphta may be useful in
controlling weedy johnsongrass. But for effective control, they recommend
application of 33 kg/ha TCA (trichloroacetic acid) with six cultivations,
followed by ca 11 kg/ha 2,4-D (if the treatment is applied to the weed infested
field 100 days before wheat is sown, there is no observable residual toxicity).
Sodium azide (ca 125 kg/ha) and methyl bromide has also been evaluated.
Cultivars average 120 MT/ha forage. Seed yields may be small in some hybrids
and cvs, up to 1.7 kg per plant. Seeds yield range from 188 to 502 kg/ha, with
314 kg/ha considered good. Johnsongrass hay was valued at approximately $50/MT
in 1978 (Bennett, 1981).
According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from
2 to 19 MT/ha. One estimate puts the weight of the rhizomes alone at 33 MT.
Nineteen MT hay/ha is reported (Duke, 1978). These yields are much higher than
those reported by Bennett, who puts unfertilized yields at 0.51.4 MT/ha/yr,
and fertilized rainfed yields at 2.74.9 MT/ha/yr.
Leaves often splotched with purple due to a bacterial disease. Bacteria known
to attack johnsongrass include the following: Pseudomonas andropogonis, Ps.
holci, Ps. syringae, and Xanthomonas holcicola. Fungi attacking
johnsongrass include: Alternaria tenuissima, Apiospora camptospora,
Ascochyta sorghi, A. sorghina, Balansia andropogonis, Cercospora sorghi,
Cladosporium graminum, Colletotrichum falcatum, C. graminicola,
Colletotrichopsis graminicola, Epicoccum neglectum, E. nigrum, E. purpurascens,
Fusarium graminearum, Fusicladium sorghi, Gibberella fujikurai, G. zeae,
Gloeocercospora sorghi, Hadrotrichum sorghi, Helminthosporium maydis, H.
sorghicola, H. turcicum, Leptosphaerulina argentinensis, Meliola megalopoda, M.
andropogonis, Metasphaeria panicorum, Monascus purpureus, Mycosphaerella
tulasnei, Nigrospora sphaerica, Ophiobolus acuminatus, Phoma insidiosa,
Phyllachora sorghi, Phyllosticta sorghina, Puccinia graminis, P. purpurea,
Periconia byssoides, Ramulispora sorghi, Sclerospora macrospora, Thanatephorus
cucumeris, Titaeospora sorghi, Trichometasphaeria turcica, and Uromyces
andropogonis. It is also attacked by the leaf-gall and maize dwarf mosaic
viruses. It is parasitized by the flowering plants Striga lutea and
S. euphrasioides. Nematodes isolated from johnsongrass include
Pratylenchus zeae and Tylenchorhynchus martini. A serious weed,
johnsongrass can cause 2550% reduction in ratoon sugar yields, 1233% in corn,
and ca 520% in soybean. It is one of the "big 3" weeds in cotton in Greece,
Mexico, and Venezuela, sugarcane in Argentina, Australia, Fiji, Pakistan, the
US, and Venezuela, corn in Chile, Greece, US, and Yugoslavia, citrus in Mexico
and Venezuela, and vineyards in Australia. It is reported that extracts or
exudates of Johnsongrass can inhibit germination of seedling growth of clover,
crownclover, and johnsongrass itself. Johnsongrass is an alternative host for
Botryosphaeria sp. and Puccinia purpurea and of viruses causing
rice leaf gall, cornleaf gall, stripe disease of rice, sugarcane mosaic, maize
dwarf mosaic, beet yellows, and wheat streak mosaic (Holm et al., 1977).
Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
- Bennett, H.W. 1981. Johnsongrass Sorghum halepense. p. 251257. In:
McClure, T.A. and Lipinsky, E.S. (eds.), CRC handbook of biosolar
resources.Vol. II Resource materials. CRC Press, Inc. Boca Raton, FL.
- C.S.I.R. (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research). 19481976. The wealth
of India. 11 vols. New Delhi.
- Duke, J.A. 1978. The quest for tolerant germplasm. p. 161. In: ASA Special
Symposium 32, Crop tolerance to suboptimal land conditions. Am. Soc. Agron.
- Duke, J.A. 1981b. The gene revolution. Paper 1. p. 89150. In: Office of
Technology Assessment, Background papers for innovative biological technologies
for lesser developed countries. USGPO. Washington.
- Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index
with more than 85,000 entries. 3 vols.
- Holm, L.G., Plunknett, D.L., Pancho, J.V., and Herberger, J.P. 1977. The
world's worst weeds. Univ. Press of Hawaii. Honolulu.
- List, P.H. and Horhammer, L. 19691979. Hager's handbuch der pharmazeutischen
praxis. vols 26. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
- Miller, D.F. 1958. Composition of cereal grains and forages. National Academy
of Sciences, National Research Council, Washington, DC. Publ. 585.
Last update Friday, January 9, 1998 by aw