Pascual Hernandez
Pascual Hernandez
In the course of my travels this summer, I recently saw a couple of grasses by the roadside that made me pull over to take a look.

That’s because both are good forage and rare.

The fact that they were growing in proximity makes me think that they were seeded nearby in recent history.

The first grass goes by Arizona Cottontop (Digitaria californica) but is also called California Cottontop.

It is a warm-season, perennial bunchgrass that can grow 1-1/2 to 2 feet tall and has a knotty base. Leaves are 3 to 5 inches long. The seed head is 2 to 5 inches long with white to purplish hairs that give it a cottony appearance.

Livestock find it highly palatable and it is often used in range seedlings following brush control.

This grass establishes rapidly and is very drought tolerant.

Arizona Cottontop is grazed by cattle, horses, and sometimes by sheep and goats.

It is most palatable when green, but cures well on the stem, and provides dry forage for cattle. It also provides fair value for wildlife.

Because it is palatable throughout the year, it is frequently overgrazed.
However, it responds well following deferment.

Cottontop grows rapidly following late spring and summer rains and continues to grow as long as moisture is available.

It reproduces primarily from seed and usually produces a good seed crop.

Seed can remain viable for as long as 10 years, but it seldom grows in pure stands.

Other names for this grass include Arizona cottongrass, cotton grass, and punta blanca.

The second grass was Wilman lovegrass (Eragrostis superba).

It is a warm-season perennial, but is not native.

However, it has good forage value and is often used in mixtures with native grasses because it establishes early and fairly easily.

Yet it does not persist over time. That means that it will not out-compete native grasses.

An added positive is that it is easy to identify, so you can use it as a marker to determine success of germination.

Wilman lovegrass is a bunchgrass introduced from South Africa. It grows 2-4 foot tall, and is very leafy.

Livestock and wildlife find it palatable and will readily eat both the green forage and cured grass.

However it recovers fairly easily from grazing.

Hopefully the recent good rains will invigorate these and other range grasses to enhance our rangelands as we head into the autumn season.