Ontario prairies logo - big bluestem

Prairie Grasses

Past and Potential for Ontario's Natural Heritage - Page 8

Prairie in the working landscape - There exists a wide variety of promising "practical" uses for tallgrass communities and their component species. If managed properly, tallgrass can provide sustained warm season pasture for cattle (Moore and Mansell 1997; Waller et al. 1994). Andropogon gerardii is listed by Jones (1985) as one of the most important C4 forage grasses in the world, and it is very palatable to livestock. However, there are important differences in the biology and ecology of these grasses when compared with common European cool season forage grasses; this means that different pasture management regimes would have to be adopted. For example, the elevated height of Panicum virgatum apical meristems early in the growing season (Waller et al. 1994) and the non-rhizomatous habit of A. gerardii (Jones 1985) make them susceptible to overgrazing.

C4 grasses are amongst the world's most resource-efficient plants for biomass production (Samson 1993a). Possibilities exist for using perennial prairie grasses for the production of fibre and fuel, both for transportation fuel and for space and processing heat (Samson 1993a, 1993b, 1994). This offers a type of agricultural diversification that can be more economical and sustainable than current fibre and fuel production (Samson 1993a, 1994). Ethanol production trials with P. virgatum in Ontario are producing promising results (Henkes undated).

Currently in the province, tallgrass vegetation is being used in demonstrations for low maintenance landscaping needs (K. Delaney, pers. comm.). Some advocates hope that we will follow in the footsteps of some U.S. states (e.g., Jacobson et al. 1990) now using native grasses and wildflowers on roadsides instead of turf as part of State beautification projects. Industrial reclamation (Browning 1998) and industrial landscaping (Suffling et al. 1998) trials with tallgrass species are also underway in southern Ontario.

Angler and hunter clubs in southern Ontario are keen to assist with bobwhite quail recovery efforts (L. McLean, pers. comm.), an initiative that will first involve ensuring sufficient habitat through restoration and recreation efforts (K. Delaney, pers. comm.). Other promising ideas for encouraging the use of tallgrass in the working landscape, including queen bee production (M. Gartshore, pers. comm.), straw bale house production (using native grasses) and the cut/dried native flower trade (K. Delaney, pers. comm.), remain largely unexplored.

Andropogon gerardii

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)
Panicum virgatum

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 References Appendix 1

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Page design © 1999 T. A. Dickinson; essay text and illustrations © 1998 Lindsay Rodger except as noted.
Please send your comments to tim.dickinson@utoronto.ca; last updated 7-May-99

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