Agronomy and Horticulture Department


Date of this Version

March 2002


Published in JOURNAL OF RANGE MANAGEMENT 55(2) March 2002.


Multiple generations of rhizome-connected tillers stabilize soils and produce measurable amounts of herbage on sandy rangeland throughout the world. However, little is known about the dynamics of rhizome development in these clonal plant species. Seasonal relationships between foliar characteristics and rhizomes of prairie sandreed [Calamovilfa longifolia (Hook) Scribn.] were examined on sands range sites at 30-day intervals from May through September 1989 and 1990 at the University of Nebraska, Panhandle Experimental Range near Scottsbluff. Quadrats were excavated each year from two, 5 x 5 Latin Square macroplots in each of 2 grazing histories, long-term rest or current-year deferment. Under dry conditions in 1989, a 65 % reduction in the length of new rhizomes during July preceded a 64% reduction in live tillers in August. After which, rhizome length and live tiller density were unchanged and mean tiller weight increased during September. When average precipitation occurred in 1990, a 25% reduction in live tillers and concurrent increases in new rhizome length and mean tiller weight occurred during July. Rhizome bud densities increased throughout the growing season at different but predictable rates (R2 ≥ 0.95) for grazing histories, regardless of precipitation. Length of new rhizomes was highly correlated (R2 = 0.91) with live herbage throughout the growing season. Measurable increases in total rhizome length did not occur until live herbage of prairie sandreed exceeded a threshold of about 50 g m-2. Maximum increase in length of new rhizomes per unit of live herbage was about 10 cm g-1 near 100 g m-2. Given its dependence on vegetative reproduction and relatively high palatability to beef cattle, periodic or repeated years of full growing season deferment may be the only reliable method of obtaining measurable increases in prairie sandreed populations.