The $1 million
question is whether Giant Miscanthus, like a mule, can take on a heavy
load - in this case, the job of freeing the U.S. from its dependence on
overseas petroleum. Giant Miscanthus is one of the leading candidates
for cellulosic ethanol production.
Miscanthus, a tall, perennial
grass, is the sterile cross between two plants, and a mule is the
sterile result of a cross between a horse and a donkey.
University of Illinois researchers have successfully established Giant
Miscanthus at northern, central and southern Illinois sites, ranging
from DeKalb to Dixon Springs. The following are some of the lessons
learned on these sites, compiled by Tom Voigt, a U of I Extension
specialist, and crop scientist Stephen Long, along with three graduate
Large plantings of Giant Miscanthus are typically established using
rhizomes. Based on U of I findings, you should plant rhizomes about 4
inches deep into a fine seedbed in the spring as soon as soils are
workable. Use a spacing of 3 feet between rows and between plants
(about 4,850 rhizomes per acre). Expect that not all rhizomes will
sprout. Field skips will require replanting in years two or three.
Giant Miscanthus appears to be remarkably
efficient at capturing and retaining nitrogen. In European trials,
nitrogen fertilization has had no significant effect on yield.
Anecdotally, an ornamental planting in central Illinois has grown 18
years without being fertilized and continues to reach 12 to 14 feet
tall and produce numerous stems.
However, Voigt said, more fertility research in Illinois is needed and
Normally, the summer rains and humidity in Illinois, along with the
state’s moisture-retentive soils, are adequate to produce
high yields. Yield usually increases as more water is available to the
crop, although Giant Miscanthus will not withstand continuously
Weeds must be controlled during the planting season to ensure a
successful planting. However, to date there have been no biomass losses
due to insects or diseases.
The Giant Miscanthus growing season in central Illinois begins in late
April and is completed as the plants go dormant after the first killing
frost, usually in October. In central Illinois, established plants
typically reach more than 6 feet tall by the end of May and greater
than 12 feet at the end of each growing season. Established plantings
develop about five to 10 shoots per square foot.
In the United States, no commercially available mechanical planters or
harvesters are currently designed to work specifically with Giant
Miscanthus rhizomes. In Europe, however, producers have successfully
modified potato planters and harvesters for Giant Miscanthus. In
addition, a British company has developed a mechanical planter for the
crop. Stems have been harvested with hay cutters and balers.
Maximum yields should be obtained within three years on fertile soils,
but may require four to five years on poor soils. In replicated U of I
studies, the biomass yields of unfertilized Giant Miscanthus (planted
in 2002) averaged 9.8 tons per acre in northern Illinois from 2004
through 2006, 15.5 tons per acre in central Illinois and 15.8 tons per
acre in southern Illinois. This far exceeds unfertilized upland
switchgrass, which had biomass yields ranging from 2.2 to 5.2 tons per
acre in Illinois.
Source: University of Illinois College
of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental
A New Energy Economy