Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Sorghastrum nutans


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Walkup, Crystal J. 1991. Sorgastrum nutans. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : SORNUT SYNONYMS : Sorghastrum avenaceum (Michx.) Nash SCS PLANT CODE : SONU2 COMMON NAMES : Indiangrass Indian grass indiangrass indian grass TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for Indiangrass is Sorghastrum nutans (L.) Nash [50]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms. LIFE FORM : Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Indiangrass is found from Quebec and Maine west to central Saskatchewan, south to Arizona and northern Mexico, and east to Florida. It is found in all but 5 of the lower 48 states [50]. ECOSYSTEMS : FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine FRES14 Oak - pine FRES15 Oak - hickory FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES29 Sagebrush FRES32 Texas savanna FRES34 Chaparral - mountain shrub FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie STATES : AL AZ AR CO CT DE FL GA IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WV WI WY LB NB NF NS ON PQ SK MEXICO BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 7 Lower Basin and Range 10 Wyoming Basin 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 14 Great Plains 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : K016 Eastern ponderosa forest K017 Black Hills pine forest K037 Mountain mahogany - oak scrub K051 Wheatgrass - bluegrass K056 Wheatgrass - needlegrass shrubsteppe K062 Mesquite - live oak savanna K063 Foothills prairie K064 Grama - needlegrass - wheatgrass K065 Grama - buffalograss K066 Wheatgrass - needlegrass K067 Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass K069 Bluestem - grama prairie K070 Sandsage - bluestem prairie K074 Bluestem prairie K075 Nebraska sandhills prairie K076 Blackland prairie K081 Oak savanna K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100 K084 Cross Timbers K086 Juniper - oak savanna K087 Mesquite - oak savanna K098 Northern floodplain forest K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest K112 Southern mixed forest SAF COVER TYPES : 39 Black ash - American elm - red maple 40 Post oak - blackjack oak 42 Bur oak 66 Ashe juniper - redberry (Pinchot) juniper 68 Mesquite 70 Longleaf pine 71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak 72 Southern scrub oak 76 Shortleaf pine - oak 83 Longleaf pine - slash pine 94 Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm 237 Interior ponderosa pine 241 Western live oak SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : In the northern parts of the tallgrass prairie, Indiangrass is not as plentiful as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii). In southern areas, it may comprise over 90 percent of a stand [13]. Indiangrass occurs as a dominant or subdominant in the following classifications: Remnant grassland vegetation and ecological affinities of the upper coastal prairie of Texas [18] Composition, classification and species response patterns of remnant tallgrass prairies in Texas [19] Classification of native vegetation at the Woodworth Station, North Dakota [52]


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Livestock and wildlife eat Indiangrass throughout the summer, but it does not cure well and is generally considered only fair forage for fall and winter grazing [69]. Numerous songbirds and small mammals eat the seeds [55]. PALATABILITY : Indiangrass is highly palatable to livestock and wildlife in the summer but only fairly palatable after maturity [53]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE : Indiangrass provides a good source of protein and vitamin A throughout the summer when leaves are green. Digestibility and crude protein decrease as plants mature [11,31,70]. Spring burning (April 1-15) increased digestibilty of crude fiber, dry matter, and ether extract [67]. COVER VALUE : Indiangrass provides excellent nesting and security cover for pheasants, northern bobwhite, mourning doves, prairie chickens, and several songbirds [31,55,61]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : Indiangrass has been used for several revegetation projects. It is recommened for range seeding on overgrazed range sites throughout Nebraska [69]. Roadside revegetation projects in Iowa included Indiangrass [24]. Establishing Indiangrass on cultivated soils in the glaciated prairie pothole region in the north-central United States creates wildlife habitat [23]. Revegetating mined areas (surface coal mines) was unsuccessful in east central Texas [66] and Kentucky [47]. Though Indiangrass established, the cover was insufficient for soil stabalization. Prairie grasses (primarily big bluestem and Indiangrass) have had mixed results for strip-mine reclamation in Illinois. The establishment of satisfactory stands required 10 to 15 years of growth and high seeding rates [8]. On 30-year-old strip-mine spoils, Indiangrass produced well with both spring and fall plantings [63]. Another study had fair success, but suggested early-spring planting be used in areas where summer moisture stress may be a problem [65]. Direct seeding with a grass drill is the most effective planting method [24]. Awns and hairlike appendages found on the seeds limit their ability to flow through the drill. Cleaning with a debearder and fanning mill significantly increases seed quality and flowability [39]. Planting depth, rate and time, and seed cleaning and quality are described generally by Wasser [75] and specifically for New Mexico by Allison [6]. The seeding rate is 10 pure live seed (PLS) pounds per acre (11-12 kg/ ha) [23]. Transplanting seedlings works successfully in areas where using a drill is not feasible [54,74]. Broadcast seeding and hydroseeding have been tried with mixed results [16,24]. OTHER USES AND VALUES : NO-ENTRY OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Indiangrass is intolerant of repeated close grazing and is a decreaser on all range sites [40,69]. It may decrease during drought, but recovers immediately when precipitaion returns to normal [33]. It may be incorporated with cool-season grasses in farm management plans, since maximim production occurs while cool-season grasses are dormant [30]. Cutting Indiangrass at the hay stage caused a decrease in plant density in Wisconsin. Cutting at monthly intervals during the summer caused little or no decrease in plant densities [62]. Several cultivars of Indiangrass are available, each meeting requirements for specific sites and uses [14,28,37,43,56,71]. Woehler [79] discusses the use of herbicides to control annual weed competition in new plantings.


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Indiangrass is a perennial, native, warm-season grass with short, scaley rhizomes. Plants grow upright and robust, from 3.3 to 6.6 feet (1 to 2 m). Inflorescences are a striking yellow or golden color, with hairy, grayish branches [69]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM : Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Sexual: Indiangrass seeds germinate readily unless they are buried deeper than 0.5 inch (1.25 cm). The vigorous seedlings endure a wider range of drought conditions than most lowland grasses [76]. Cold stratification is a requirement for germination [75]. Vegetative: Indiangrass produces short rhizomes, which are often very abundant and may extend to depths of 6 feet (1.8 m). Tillering is limited or reduced by severe competition [76]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : Indiangrass grows in prairies, bottomlands, open woods, and meadows. In Nebraska it is common on subirrigated and overflow range sites. It thrives on deep, moist soils varying from heavy clays to coarse sands [75]. It is moderately tolerant of salt and acid, and may be common on mildly saline, subirrigated sites [69,75]. It has been found on soils with a pH as low as 4.5 [75]. Indiangrass tolerates brief or periodic flooding, water tables in the second foot of soil, and imperfect drainage [75]. Soils which support Indiangrass include sandy- and medium-textured soils [41], limestone breaks [7], and silty clay loams [34]. It was found on claypan range sites in Kansas, but abudance was low [7]. Common associates include big bluestem, little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) [34,69]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Facultative Seral Species Indiangrass dominates climax tallgrass or true prairies along with big bluestem, little bluestem, and switchgrass [4,64]. It may occur as isolated plants but usually grows in distinct bunches where moisture conditions are favorable [4]. It forms 90 percent of the vegetation where local stands occur in ravines, but only 5 to 20 percent where best developed in drier areas. Indiangrass is moderately shade tolerant, often occurring only in brushy thickets in the South where herbivores are unable to graze it [75]. Indiangrass readily invades disturbed areas with bare soil [13,76]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Indiangrass starts growth in midspring from short rhizomes. In Oklahoma growth began on April 6th [60]. It matures from September to November [69]. Across its range, flowering occurs latest in the southeast and earliest in the northwest. Flowering patterns may be somewhat genetic. Flowering dates of plants transplanted in Nebraska from several regions were similar to those of the plants where they originated [51]. Flowering dates for different regions have been reported as follows: Area Flowering Date Authority Texas September to November Gould 1937 Oklahoma September 1 to 19 Rice 1950, Bogle 1989 Kansas mid-September Albertson Missouri August Rabinowitz & others 1989 eastern Nebraska August Steiger 1930 North Dakota mid-July to mid-August Manske 1980


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : The maintenance of the tallgrass prairie before European settlement was largely due to the occurrence of fire. In the absence of fire, invasion by woody species is common [12]. Without periodic fires Indiangrass declines in terms of reproductive effort and relative cover [32]. Indiangrass survives fire by sprouting from on-site surviving rhizomes. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY : Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Indiangrass is top-killed by fire. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT : NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : Indiangrass density and apparent vigor [17,22], number of flowering culms [9,38,45], and percent canopy and basal cover [5,57] increase with late spring burning conducted prior to green-up. Burning during other seasons may increase flowering stems [38] or decrease percent composition of Indiangrass [72]. The greatest increase in canopy cover, density, production, and flowering occurs following annual burns [2,25,44,45]. Seeds are generally absent in burned soils, and most reproduction following fire is vegetative [2]. Fire intensity affects short-term rhizome reproduction. Late summer fires (September 5th) were conducted with both high-intensity and low-intensity fuels. Little or no damage occurred on the low-intensity fuel area, but tiller densities were reduced on the high-intensity fuel area. However, tiller density returned to normal by the following August [26]. This Research Project Summary: Herbaceous responses to seasonal burning in experimental tallgrass prairie plots provides information on postfire response of Indiangrass in experimental prairie plots that was not available when this species review was originally written. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE : There was an increase in the number and height of flowering stalks on Iowa prairie burned following snow-melt. The area had been completely protected for 9 years prior to burning. Burns were conducted 1 of 3 years, 2 of 3 years and annually, with the greatest flowering occuring on the annually burned area and the least on unburned areas [25]. A significant increase in living shoot and flowering stalk production and more rapid rate of phenological development occurred following spring burns in Illinois. Burns were conducted in February, March and April of 3 different years [36]. Indiangrass frequency increased significantly following annual April and May burns using a strip headfire [78]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Water availability for plant uptake may be initially higher in burned tallgrass prairie, especially early in the growing season. The through-fall volume of precipitation is 1.3 times higher in burned than in unburned prairie [34]. However, exposed mineral surfaces lose moisture rapidly and are soon drier than unburned areas. Late spring burning with headfires is an appropriate management strategy in tallgrass prairies when the primary land use is cattle grazing [10]. The average daily gain of cattle increased on tallgrass prairie burned in early to mid-April in Oklahoma [70] and in the Flint Hills of Kansas [80]. The Oklahoma range was in good to excellent condition prior to burning and post-burn precipitation was high. Further research will be necessary to determine impacts of burning on poor to fair range or during dry years [70]. Annual spring burning maximizes Indiangrass production and flowering [1,17,25]. Six years without burning allowed big bluestem to increase and replace Indiangrass [42]. Indiangrass stem density decreased following 3 years without burning on deep soil [21]. A marked reduction in both living shoot and flowering stalk production may occur following only a single year with no burning [36].


SPECIES: Sorghastrum nutans
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