Grass Species and Pasture Legumes

Botanical name: Cynodon dactylon

Common name: Quick grass or couch grass

The inflorescence type of quick grass is digitate. It consists of 4 slender spikes that may grow up to 60mm in length and are arranged on the end of the axis in the form of fingers on a hand causing it to be digitate.

The growth habitat of quick grass is almost every soil type especially fertile soil but can be found in your common garden to overgrazed and uncultivated land.

It is widely distributed in South African in the grassland, savanna, nama-karoo and Fynbos biomes. It is a kind of pioneer grass that is utilized by farmers as a pasture.

The significance of quick grass in ecological terms is that it is a pioneer species and generally classified as invasive as it invades all types of areas and soil types. It is not a protected plant because of its invasive nature. It can be a serious weed as it invades cultivated lands and is difficulty to eradicate from the land.

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After fires it produces shoots quickly because of its rhizome nature it has a nutrient reserve underground that supply nutrients to allow fast regrowth. Grazing animals can eat this grass and as a result, disperse its seed which is normally wind-pollinated. It plays a conservation role as it prevents soil erosion and is recommended in the use to protect water ways.

In a production term it is utilized by farmers as a pasture as it can grow well in a dry land situation and flowers from March till September providing a reliable feed source for livestock in the winter months as the plants remain green in mid-winter.

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It has a high feed value but does not produce much bulk. It is also used by gardeners as a decorative grass in their home gardens. It is used in traditional medicine to treat open wounds and is used in the fermentation process of making sour beer in the Venda culture as one of their traditions.

Grass Two: Lolium perenne – ryegrass

Botanical name: Lolium perenne

Common name: Ryegrass

The inflorescence type of ryegrass is spikelet. It is unbranched with the spikelet on alternating sides of the stem. Each spikelet has between four and fourteen florets without awns (a stiff bristle).

Ryegrass is a low-growing, tufted plant with a tillering growth habitat. The leaves folded giving a flattened appearance. The stems can grow up to 90cm in length. It has a perennial fibrous root system. It may be seen as a primary plant species because of its ease of germination and ability to out grow most of its competition.

The ecological significance of ryegrass is that it is useful in preventing soil erosion by stabilizing the soil. Ryegrass has also been used as a lawn grass because of its hardwearing ability thus being good for areas that are trampled frequently. In countries where it has been introduced it may be seen as an invasive plant as it competes with the native plants and its ease of germination and vigour. It may be found along roadsides, wastelands and river banks as it may spread from fields where it was planted.

The productive significance of ryegrass is that it is useful as fodder and grazing for livestock. It is used in many mixtures of pasture seeds as in fertile soil it produces a high quantity of grass. It is used for sports pitches because of its wear resistance and ability to regenerate. (Wimbledon tennis courts are sown with 100% ryegrass) Ryegrass is a perennial grass meaning that it is always green and thus provides pasture for livestock throughout the year making it a good source of feed in areas where there is little food during the winter months. Although it is not one of the highest quality grasses it provides high quantities in fertile soils.

Grass three: Eragrostis lehmanniana – Lehmann lovegrass

Botanical name: Eragrostis lehmanniana

Common name: Lehmann lovegrass

Lehmann lovegrass is a perennial grass that has a panicle inflorescence type. The spikelets are condensed around the branchlets of the pedicels.

Lehmann lovegrass is native to South Africa and is very abundant in the Orange Free State. This grass prefers areas with rainfall higher than 150mm per year but less than 220mm per year. Its spreading may be enhanced by fire but does not need it to spread. In South Africa it typically grows in the grasslands (dry and wooded grasslands), in valleys and on the edges of the pans and rivers. It becomes abundant in overgrazed veld and areas that have been disturbed.

The significance of Lehmann lovegrass in ecological terms is that it has a low palatability in summer causing selective grassing where possible and resulting in this grass outcompeting the more palatable plants. They cause greater fire intensity and more frequent fires as a result of their ability to seed stalks early in summer as well as their high reproductive potential. It has been found in many other countries but is seen as invasive as it outcompetes the native species, but it has been seen that it increases biodiversity of animals in the areas, this was shown in Arizona and Southern Texas.

In terms of productivity of Lehmann lovegrass it has been used in hay cultivation in South Africa, although it is not very leafy it is a valuable grazing grass in arid areas and is one of the first grasses to start growing in spring. It is palatable when it is green but of low palatability when it matures. It is considered important where it occurs due to its abundance. In the Kalahari it is a forage grass of inferior value to cattle farmers. It has been used to treat colic and diarrhoea and has been used as a ground cover to remedy soil erosion along the roads.

Grass four: Digitaria eriantha – Finger grass

Botanical name: Digitaria eriantha

Common name: Finger grass

The inflorescence of Finger grass is sub-digitate. It consists of greenish seed heads at the tip of the stem and are usually arranged along a short section of the stem of about 5cm. Each flowering branch consists of many tiny flower spikelets

Finger grass is a long-lived tufted grass of semi-upright stems that grow between 40-120cm long. They may contain stolons. It grows relatively well in various types of soils but prefers moist soils. It is drought tolerant, suppresses weeds and grows relatively quickly after it has been grazed.

The significance of finger grass in ecological terms is that it suppresses weeds making it more of a secondary grass type. It reproduces by seed and stolons which spread laterally. The seeds are distributed by water or animal consumption. It has a high drought tolerance and thus grows well in semi-arid regions but is also tolerant to flooding making it a good grass for a variety of areas. It is a grass of high quality in terms of nutrient value for grazing and thus provides a good grazing for livestock.

In terms of productivity, finger grass is used as a pasture or to produce hay as it has a high quality and is tolerant to drought and flooding but grows well under irrigation. It can with stand heavy grazing, allowing for the best utilization of the pasture without killing the grass and having to replant the pasture. Its production is better in the warmer season than the cold season thus the management during summer and winter will be different to prevent overgrazing. It is a good option for pasture as it has a high yield and has a low labour requirement to keep the pasture at good health.

Grass five: Themeda triandra – red grass

Botanical name: Themeda triandra

Common name: Red grass

The inflorescence type of red grass is compounded or false panicle. Its flowers produce large red-brown spikelets on branched stems. It tends to grow to a length of between 10cm and 30cm and is composed of a single raceme.

Red grass is a perennial tussock-forming grass that does not grow well under heavy grazing but may benefit from some burning. It grows predominantly in grassland to savanna, in areas from average to high rainfall. It grows in any soil type but prefers clay soil with a high organic matter content where it grows best.

The ecological significance of red grass is that it is a good indicator of good veld condition. It is resistant to fire if it is well rested after the fire and its resistance increases with regular burning making it perfect for areas that tend to have seasonal fires. Its long awns on the seeds aid in reproduction and distribution as they twist into the soil. Red grass is a tertiary grass and is one of the better-known grasses.

In terms of productivity red grass is a very palatable grass to stock especially during its growth phase and is a food source for many avian species. It is occasionally used as an ornamental grass, thatch grass and may be used in pulp for paper. Once it is established it requires only low maintenance and needs to be grazed down to remove the dead leaves and stems. Red grass supplies good grazing to animals throughout the year but best during the summer months after rains but does not grow well under heavy grazing and needs a rest period to replenish its nutrient storages. It is not used as a planted pasture.

Legume one: Medicago sativa- Lucerne

Botanical name: Medicago sativa

Common name: Alfalfa/Lucerne

The inflorescence type of Lucerne is panicle. It produces purple flowers and rounded trifoliate leaves.

Lucerne is a perennial flowering grass that has been used in planted pastures as a fodder, green manure, grazing, hay and silage. Once it has been planted the pasture can last for up to 10 years and may be cut 4-6 times a year depending on the management and how well it is watered.

The ecological significance of Lucerne is that it is a perennial forage legume that can last for 4-20 years depending on the variety and the climate. It produces a very deep root system that helps with nitrogen fertility of the soil and prevents soil erosion. This deep root system makes it drought-hardy because of its large energy storage in the roots. It has a slow growing seedling but once it is established it forms a prominent, tough crown at the top of the root system.

In terms of productivity Lucerne can grow up to a meter in height and produces one of the highest yields of forage per hectare making it suitable for harvesting and using it as hay. It has the highest feed value out of all hay producing grasses thus making it one of the most used feeds for dairy cattle, horses and sheep. It has a high protein content and is a highly digestible fibre. It makes a very good green manure because of its nutrient content supplying nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus as well as neutralizing the pH of the soils. Its is often used to replenish the nutrient stores in crop producing fields as it will replace lost nutrients while still producing an income for the farmer if the hay bales are sold.

Legume two: Trifolium repens – White clover

Botanical name: Trifolium repens

Common name: White clover

The inflorescence type of white clover is axillary with 3 rounded leaves at the tip of each stem. It has a white pompom looking flower and may turn cream or have a pinkish tint as it gets older.

White clover is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows in grassy areas like lawns and gardens. Its stems function as stolons and produce a mat like cover over the ground as it is a creeping plant. The growth may differ from area to area where it may be small, intermediate or large. The white clover that I collected is a large strain.

The ecological significance of white clover is that it is provides a food source for bees and prevents soil erosion well because of its creeping nature. It is cultivated as a forage crop and nitrogen fixation takes place in its root, replenishing the nitrogen stores in the soil and prevents soil leaching. It provides cover in poorer soils where tufted grasses do not perform well. In some cases, it has been used as a green manure to replenish lost nutrients before planting other crops.

In terms of productivity, white clover produces up to 545kg of nitrogen per hectare through nitrogen fixation. It is usually planted in a mixture of forage grasses; this helps prevent nutrient depletion of the land and allows optimal use of the pasture as a livestock production system and prevents bloat of the livestock. White clover tolerates mowing and grazing well. It is a good forage crop as its leaves are high in protein and are abundant. White clover has also been used in salads but is boiled to improve the digestibility in the human digestive system, its flowers have also been dried and used as an herbal tabaco replacement.

Additional questions

Main features that can assist in identification of grass plants:

  1. Starting with the stems of the plants we will have to distinguish between rhizomes, stolons and culms. If the stem grows horizontal below the surface it is a rhizome this can be seen in white clover. If the plant has horizontal growth on the surface of the ground with small roots vertical very so often it is seen as a stolon this can be seen in quick grass. Culms are stems that grow up from the root, seen in ryegrass, finger grass and red grass. The grasses can also be a stolon and a rhizome combination.
  2. When looking at the grasses they all have different leaves of different shapes and thickness. Some may have hairs and others don’t. If you compare quick grass to ryegrass you will see that quick grass has shorter, finer leaves and ryegrass has longer leaves that are folded in half. While the leaves of some grasses may be very similar there are small differences that will help with there identification.
  3. The inflorescence is the best way to identify a grass as they have prominent differences specifically in arrangement. Comparing quick grass which is digitate and ryegrass which is spikelet for example. There is also a difference in the seed shapes and sizes one being finer and the other having a larger more prominent seed, this is very visible between lehmann lovegrass and redgrass.
  4. The grasses can also be identified and distinguished between one another in their life span, typically if a grass is annual or perennial and the time of year that it has seed.
  5. Another point to look at would be whether the grass has internodes. One key identifying point of lehmann lovegrass is its internodes, the one prominent internode close to the base of the stem gives it the Afrikaans name Knietjiesgras because it looks like a knee.
  6. The plant roots are also a good point to compare similar plants to identify the correct plant. The three different root types to look for are the tap root, fibrous root and adventitious roots. Majority of the grasses being fibrous and adventitious.

What is the difference between basal cover, litter cover and canopy cover? In your own words, explain why these are important.


  • Basal cover: is the portion of the plant that extends into the soil.
  • Litter cover: is a vertical projection of exposed leaf area. The cover would equal the shadow cast if the sun was directly overhead. More commonly known as foliar cover.
  • Canopy cover: an estimate of the area of influence of the plant.


  • Basal cover has to do with the root growth of the plant and any part of the plant that grows beneath the surface including rhizomes.
  • Litter cover has to do with the length of growth of the plants leaves and tillers and their affect on the area above the leaves.
  • Canopy cover has to do with the area that the plant covers over the surface bellow the leaves.


  • Basal cover is important as it indicates the growth beneath the surface that is not directly affected by grazing and is not as sensitive to climate changes like the leaves and stems above ground would be. It is a good year-round indication for the plant because of these but is difficult to measure as it is beneath ground.
  • Litter cover is important as it shows the leaf area index and allows us to visualise how wide the leaves spread and will be a good indication of how far apart the plant should be planted to prevent over competition. This would be important for planted pastures like Lucerne.
  • Canopy cover is important as it considers both the basal cover and litter cover and is important to determine the total area that a single plant utilizes for optimal growth. This will be important for planted pastures like Lucerne to optimize your yield and when you are trying to minimize erosion of an area.

Cite this page

Grass Species and Pasture Legumes. (2019, Dec 13). Retrieved from

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