Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

Variation in seed yield and its components in the Australian native grass Microlaena stipoides as a guide to its potential as a perennial grain crop

C. L. Davies A C , D. L. Waugh A and E. C. Lefroy B

A Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

B CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Private Bag 5 PO, Wembley, WA 6913, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 56(3) 309-316
Submitted: 30 August 2004  Accepted: 17 December 2004   Published: 23 March 2005


This research investigated the potential to domesticate an Australian native grass (Microlaena stipoides) to produce a perennial grain crop. Perennial grain crops offer a new solution to the long-standing problems of salinity and soil erosion associated with conventional cropping systems based on annual plants.

Seed yield and its components (culm number, spikelet number per culm, seed set, seed weight) were measured in 46 accessions of Microlaena stipoides (microlaena, meadow or weeping rice grass) from Western Australia and New South Wales to quantify potentially useful variation in the species.

A high degree of variability was found to exist, with a 20-fold range in seed yield (0.1–2.4 g/plant), 5-fold range in seed weight (129–666 mg per 100 seeds), 2-fold range in spikelet number (14–30 per culm), 8-fold range in seed set (12–98%), and a 5-fold range in culm number (11–59 per plant). Seed yield was positively and significantly (P < 0.05) correlated with culm number, seed set, and seed weight (r > 0.55 for all). No correlation was found between seed yield and spikelet number per culm (r = –0.14).

The range in seed yield and its components suggests that there is sufficient variation within microlaena to make selections for higher yielding lines. This variation will enable breeders to exploit genetic diversity more efficiently and identify useful accessions for further work. High priority traits for future work include synchronous maturity and resistance to shattering.

Additional keywords: weeping rice grass, domestication, salinity.


Anamthawat-Jonsson K 1996 Wild-hybrids between wheat and lymegrass: breeding and agricultural potential. Buvusindi 10 101 113

Australian Wheat Board Ltd 2003 Grain production [online]. Available at (Verified 7 July 2004):

Boe A 2003 Genetic and environmental effects on seed weight and seed yield in switchgrass. Crop Science 43 63 67

Clifford HT 1962 Cleistogamy in Microlaena stipoides (Labill.) R.Br. Department of Botany Papers (University of Queens land) 14 63 72
University of Queensland

Cole I Johnston W Metcalfe J Tooth I Mitchell M Koen T 2001 Overcoming the seed production barriers with native grasses [online]. Available at: http://www.2004.

Connor H Matthews B 1977 Breeding systems in New Zealand grasses. 7. Cleistogamy in Microlaena. New Zealand Journal of Botany 15 531 534

Cox TS Bender M Picone C Van Tassel DL Holland JB Brummer EC Zoeller BE Paterson AH Jackson W 2002 Breeding perennial grain crops. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 21 59 91

Earl JM 1993 Seed production of selected accessions of Microlaena stipoides (Labill.) R.Br. Honours Thesis, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia.

Earl JM Whalley RDB Jones CE 1994 Variation in the components of seed yield and germination requirements among three accessions of Microlaena stipoides. ‘Working Papers from the 8th Biennial Rangeland Society Conference’. 179 180 Katherine, Northern Territory Australian Rangeland Society Alice Springs, NT

Ewel JJ 1999 Natural systems as models for the design of sustainable systems of land use. Agroforestry Systems 45 1 21

Griffiths DJ Lewis J Bean EW 1980 Problems of breeding for seed production in grasses. ‘Seed production’. Hebblethwaite PD 37 50 Butterworths London

Groves RH Whalley RDB 2002 Grass and grassland ecology in Australia. Flora of Australia 43 157 182

Hodosne-Kotvics G Krisztian J Dornbach L 1999 Perennial rye: a novel variety released from a new interspecific hybrid rye. Gyakorlati Agroforum 10 63

Huxtable CHA 1990 Ecological and embryological studies of Microlaena stipoides (Labill.) R.Br. Dissertation thesis, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia.

Jackson L Dewald C 1994 Predicting evolutionary consequences of greater reproductive effort in Tripsacum dactyloides, a perennial grass. Ecology 75 627 641

Jackson W Jackson LL 2000 Developing high seed yielding perennial polycultures as a mimic of mid-grass prairie. ‘Agriculture as a mimic of natural ecosystems’. Lefroy EC Hobbs RJ O’Connor MH Pate JS 1 55 Kluwer Dordrecht, The Netherlands

Jones TA Majerus ME Scheetz JG Holzworth LK Nielson DC 1998 Registration of ‘Rimrock’ Indian ricegrass. Crop Science 38 539 540

Jones TA Nielson DC 1992 High seed retention of Indian ricegrass PI478833. Journal of Rangeland Management 45 72 74

Kulakow PA Benson LL Vail JG 1990 Prospects for domesticating Illinois bundleflower. ‘Advances in New Crops: Proceedings of the 1st National Symposium—New Crops, Research, Development, Economics’. Indianapolis. Janick J Simon JE O’Connor MH Pate JS 168 171 Timber Press Portland, OR

Loch D Johnston P Jensen T Harvey G 1996 Harvesting, processing and marketing Australian native grass seeds. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research 39 591 599

Murphy MA Jones CE 1999 Observations on the genus Elymus (Poaceae: Triticeae) in Australia. Australian Systematic Botany 12 593 604

Puckridge DW Donald CM 1967 Competition among wheat plants sown at a wide range of densities. Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 18 193 211

Scheinost P Lammer D Cai X Murray T Jones S 2001 Perennial wheat: the development of a sustainable cropping system for the U.S. Pacific Northwest. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 16 147 151

Smith SR Smith S 1997 ‘Native grass seed production manual.’ Ducks Unlimited Canada Stonewall, Canada

Smith SR Whalley R Jr 2002 A model for expanded use of native grasses. Native Plants Journal 3 38 49

Specht RL Specht A 1999 ‘Australian plant communities: dynamics of structure, growth and biodiversity.’ Oxford University Press Melbourne, Vic.

Suneson CA Pope WK 1946 Progress with Triticum × Agropyron crosses in California. Journal of the American Society of Agronomy 38 956 963

Uphof JCT 1938 Cleistogamous flowers. Botanical Review 4 21 49

Vogel K Moore K 1993 Native North American grasses. ‘New crops’. Janick J Simon JE O’Connor MH Pate JS 284 293 John Wiley and Sons, Inc New York

Wade LJ Douglas ACL Bell KL 1992 Effect of plant density on grain yield and yield stability of diverse grain sorghum hybrids. AIAS Occasional Publication 68 414 422

Wagoner P 1990 Perennial grain development: past efforts and potential for the future. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 9 381 408

Wagoner P 1995 Intermediate wheatgrass (Thinopyrum intermedium) Development of a perennial grain crop. ‘Cereals and pseudocereals’. 1st Williams JT 247 259 Chapman and Hall London

Wagoner P Schauer A 1990 Intermediate wheatgrass as a perennial grain crop. ‘Advances in New Crops: Proceedings of the 1st National Symposium—New Crops, Research, Development, Economics’. Indianapolis. Janick J Simon JE O’Connor MH Pate JS 143 145 Timber Press Portland, OR

Waters C Huxtable C Whalley W 2000 Microlaena stipoides (Microlaena). ‘Grassed up: guidelines for revegetating with Australian native grasses’. Williams JT 59 61 NSW Agriculture Dubbo, NSW

Whalley RDB Jones CE 1997 ‘Commercialising the Australian native grass M. stipoides.’ RIRDC Publication No. 97/34. Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation Canberra, ACT

Export Citation Cited By (8)