switchgrass \ n : [alternative of quitch grass] Latin name: (panicum virgatum) one of a variety of grasses and herbaceous and woody plants. Commonly called "panic grass." Virgatum is native to the Americas, extending from Canada to South America. During a season, some varieties can grow to ten feet tall and develop stems much like hardwood pencils. Most of the growth occurs during the hottest and driest parts of the growing season.
Switchgrass is a perennial, requiring no irrigation and fertilization needs that are one-quarter to one half those of corn crops. The root system, which is as extensive as growth above-ground, is able to anchor the soil and slow and filter runoff. Pastures of switchgrass normally last more than 20 years. If the grass is used as a bioenegy resource, the pastures should be replanted every ten years to take advantage of genetic gains in yields.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an acre of switchgrass will produce 20.6 times the energy required to produce it if the grass is transported directly to an ethanol plant. Corn production typically is a ratio of 6.67.Return to the Spring 2000 Newsletter