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Sustainable Agriculture in Hawaii
Cover Crops: Non-Legumes
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Stargrass

Cynodon nlemfuensis


Click here for a downloadable, printable pdf on Stargrass.

Summary
photo of Stargrass
  • Tropical and subtropical stoloniferous perennial grass
  • Used as forage grass, cover crop, and for erosion control
  • Once established resists weed invasion
  • No seed available - only established by vegetative propagation (sprigs, plugs)

Common Name
Its common name is Stargrass, African Stargrass, kolatay (Tagalog), galud-galud (Ilokano) (Hanna).

Photo: USDA NRCS
Scientific Name
The scientific name is Cynodon nlemfuensis Vanderyst (Bogdan).
Cynodon nlemfuensis is a variable species and two varieties have been recognized: Var. nlemfuensis and Var. robustus (Hanna).
 
Cultivars
There are several cultivars of Stargrass reported by Hanna: ‘Florico’, ‘Florona’, ‘Ona’, and ‘Costa Rica’. ‘Florico’ is recommended by NRCS in Hawai`i.
 
Seed Description
Seeds are ellipsoid, laterally compressed (Hanna).
 
Seedling Description
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Mature Plant Description
Stargrass is a stoloniferous perennial without rhizomes. The stolons are woody and lie flat on the ground surface. Stems are 30-60 cm high and 1-3 mm at the base. The leaf blade is flat, linear-lanceolate, 5-16 cm long and 2-5 mm wide (Hanna). One inflorescence has a single whorl of 4 to 9 spikes that are 4-7 cm long each (Bogdan).
Small forms of C. nlemfuensis can be mistaken for C. dactylon (C. nlemfuensis having no underground rhizomes and being less hardy) (Hanna).
 
Temperature
Stargrass is a tropical to subtropical species. It is limited to areas where temperatures do not fall below -4°C (Hanna).
 
Origin and Geographic Distribution
Stargrass originates in East and Central Africa, from Ethiopia and Sudan through Zaire to Malawi and Angola. It has been introduced to other parts of the tropics as a fodder grass (Hanna).
 
Ecology
Stargrass occurs from sea level to 2,300 meters altitude, in grasslands, bush and forest clearings, and as a pioneer grass on disturbed land (old cultivations, cattle paddocks, denuded areas, roadsides). In tropical East Africa, Stargrass is common on light textured soil at the bottom of the Rift Valley (Bogdan).
 
Water
Stargrass requires 20-80 inches of annual rainfall (NRCS). It does not tolerate flooding for long periods (Hanna).
 
Nutrients
Fertilization greatly increases DM yields for Stargrass. A minimum of 10 kg/ha of N per month of growth is required for moderate to high productivity and stargrass will respond to higher rates (Hanna).
 
Soil pH
Stargrass tolerates a broad pH range, but grows best when the pH is above 5.5 (Hanna).
pH range: 5.0 – 8.0 (NRCS).
 
Soil Type
Stargrass will grow on a wide range of soils, and grows best in moist well-drained soils (Hanna).
 
Shade Tolerance
Stargrass has poor shade tolerance (NRCS).
 
Salinity Tolerance
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Herbicide Sensitivity
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Life Cycle
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Seeding Rate
Stargrass is propagated vegetatively (Hanna).
 
Seeding Depth
Not applicable.
 
Seeding Method
Not applicable.
 
Seeding Dates
Not applicable.
 
Inoculation
Not applicable.
 
Seed Cost
Not applicable.
 
Seed Availability
Not available.
 
Days to Flowering
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Days to Maturity
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Seed Production
Stargrass is usually propagated vegetatively. A small nursery for planting larger areas can easily be established from a few vegetative sprigs or stolons (Hanna).
 
Seed Storage
Not applicable.
 
Growth Habit
Stargrass grows vigorously and roots at the nodes as it spreads. Some genotypes have a bunch-habit type of growth even though they spread by stolons (Hanna).
 
Maximum Height
Stargrass grows to a maximum height of about 60 cm high (Hanna).
 
Root System
Stargrass is deep rooted (FAO).
 
Establishment
Stargrass is established by stolons or stem pieces.
Sprig/stolon planting rate: 40-80 bu/ac at a maximum 3 ft. by 3 ft. spacing (NRCS).
Plant into moist soil and roll (Hanna).
 
Maintenance
Maintain adequate fertilization and thatch removal to prevent insect pests (Hanna).
 
Mowing
Harvesting: Star should be cut for hay or silage when it is 30-40 cm tall or after every 4-6 weeks growth.
Grazing: Maintain a stubble height of 15-25 cm under grazing or if cut for hay. With adequate temperatures and rainfall, it can be grazed year round. Overgrazing will decrease yields (Hanna).
 
Incorporation
Not applicable. Not generally used as a green manure.
 
Harvesting
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Equipment
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Uses
  • Grazing by ruminants
  • Cover crop in orchards
  • Erosion control

Mixtures
Stargrass can be grown with low growing legumes (generally to improve forage quality). Good stargrass/legume mixtures are reported with Stylosanthes guianensis, Centrosema pubescens, Trifolium repens (cv. ‘Louisiana’), and Lotonis bainesii (Bogdan). Applications of lime are suggested to bring pH to 5.5 (Hanna).
 
Biomass
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
N Contribution
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Non-N Nutrient Contribution
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Effects on Water
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Effects on Soil
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Effects on Livestock
Crude protein content of Stargrass herbage can reach over 20% of the dry matter and is seldom below 8% (Bogdan). Stargrass contains high levels of prussic acid (Hanna). Harmful effects (goitrous and skeletal abnormalities, reduced birth rate) on lambs born by ewes grazed on C. nlemfuensis have been reported (Bogdan). Hanna cites few livestock deaths from prussic acid poisoning reported.
 
Pest Effects, Insects
Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and spittlebug (Prosapia bicinata) are the major insects that attack Stargrass. (Hanna). To help control pests, provide adequate fertilization and defoliation that allows less than 15-cm growth (thatch) to accumulate (Hanna).
 
Pest Effects, Nematodes
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Pest Effects, Diseases
The major diseases of common Stargrass are rust and Helminthosporium leaf-spot (Hanna).
 
Pest Effects, Weeds
Once established, provides good weed suppression (NRCS).
 
Pest Effects, Vertebrates
No information is available in this database on this topic.
 
Uses in the Pacific Region
Section to be added later.
 
Uses in Hawai`i
 The Hawai`i Natural Resources Conservation Service Technical Guide, Section IV, Code 340 Cover and Green Manure Crop includes Stargrass (cv ‘Florico’). Their specification describes Stargrass as follows:

  • pH range from 5.0-8.0;
  • Planting rate 40-80 bu/ac (sprigs or stolons, maximum 3x3 ft. spacing),
  • Medium maintenance required;
  • Poor shade tolerance;
  • Very good drought tolerance;
  • Rainfall range of 20-80 inches;
  • Rapid rate of establishment;
  • Elevation range from 0-3000 ft.
Giant Star grass, Cynodon plectostachyus cv. ‘South Point’ is included in this recommendation with the same descriptive criteria.

REFERENCES
Bogdan, A.V. 1977. Tropical Pasture and Fodder Plants. Longman Inc., New York. pp. 98-103.

Evans, Dale O., Joy, Robert J., & Chia, C.L., 1988. Cover Crops for Orchards in Hawaii. Hawaii Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii, United Stated. 16 pp.

FAO Web Site: http://www.fao.org/WAICENT/FAOINFO/AGRICULT/AGP/AGPC/doc/pasture/Mainmenu.htm

Hanna, W.W., 1992. Cynodon nlemfuensis Vanderyst. In: ’t Mannetje, L. & Jones, R.M. (Editors): Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 4. Forages. Pudoc-DLO, Wageningen, the Netherlands. pp. 102-104.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Hawai`i Field Office Technical Guide, Section IV, Code 340 "Cover and Green Manure Crop" May 1992.

If you have used this plant as a cover crop in the Pacific Region, please email us with COMMENTS and FEEDBACK about this plant description so we can further refine this educational resource.

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Last updated on 9/23/02
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