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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
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

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.


This work was jointly funded by RIRDC, GRDC, The University of Western Australia, and CSIRO. Wal Whalley, Meredith Mitchell, and Ian Chivers provided advice and support throughout the project. Wal Whalley, Phil Ward, and Jens Berger suggested improvements to the manuscript. Michelle Murphy collected microlaena for this study in NSW and Meredith Mitchell assisted in the collection in WA. Sarita Bennett and Jens Berger provided valuable assistance with statistical analysis.


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