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Jerry Ritchie (left) and plant physiologist Don Krizek examine gamagrass in an
experimental field. Click the image for more information about
Eastern Gamagrass Loves the Heat
By Don Comis
September 13, 2005
The hotter it gets, the better eastern gamagrass grows. That's
according to Agricultural Research
Service scientists at the ARS
A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center. This means the
plants not only could produce higher yields, but also store more carbon and
therefore help mitigate the effects of high atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2)
levels associated with global warming.
ARS plant physiologists
Reddy and soil scientist
Ritchie have obtained the first experimental proof that eastern gamagrass
may outcompete other plants and store more carbon in a hotter climate.
The scientists simulated global warming conditions in outdoor
climate-controlled SPAR (Soil-Plant-Atmosphere Research) chambers. They tested
the plants at the current level of atmospheric CO2370 parts per
millionas well as at double that amount, the level expected around 2100.
Their experiments show that when temperatures were increased from 68
degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 57 degrees F at night to 95 degrees F in
the daytime and 84 degrees F at night, eastern gamagrass plants could triple
their carbon storage. The plants' leaves were bigger and contained twice as
much nitrogen, raising their protein content. Temperature had far more effect
on plant growth than C02 level.
Eastern gamagrass is often called "Queen of the Grasses" because it
has so many good qualities. A hardy, warm-season grass, it not only tolerates
and grows in marginal soils that are acid, compacted and waterlogged, it
actually improves them. Eastern gamagrass also seems to withstand hot, dry
conditions by closing the stomates on its leaves during the day to reduce water
At a time of year when cool-season grasses go dormant, eastern
gamagrass provides high-yielding forage that is as nutritious as alfalfa. It
also has potential for use in conservation plantings, as a bioenergy crop, and
for making high-fiber flour.
more about this research in the September 2005 issue of Agricultural
The research is also presented in recent proceedings of the Eastern
Native Grass Symposia, held in Baltimore, Md. (1999),
Chapel Hill, N.C. (2002),
and Lexington, Ky. (2004). ARS is the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.