Plate 8; Seed, Plate 26, Fig. 13.
Other English name: Cocksfoot.
Botanical description: Orchard Grass is perennial with a very short rootstock. The stems, which are from two to three feet high, are crowded and surrounded at the base by numerous leafy shoots. The leaves are long, broad and flat, rather soft in texture, and for this reason often overhanging, especially in dry, hot weather. Orchard Grass can be easily recognized, even at a very early stage of development, by the basal shoots which are flat and double-keeled. This peculiar shape of the shoots is due to the leaves in the bud being folded together along the middle line. The flowers are in a short panicle, which as a rule has only two or three stout and rather short main branches. When in bloom the branches spread like the toes of a bird's foot - hence the English name Cocksfoot. During the ripening period they gradually move upward, after the manner of arms being lifted over the head, so as to form a rather narrow panicle. The branches of the panicle are naked below, carrying the spikelets at their top in dense, one-sided clusters. The spikelets are compressed, the one side being slightly hollow, the other rounded. They contain from two to five flowers, each of which is enclosed within two strongly keeled and sharply pointed glumes. The stamens are developed a trifle later than the pistil. Thus there is a possibility of cross-fertilization between flowers of different plants. The flowers of a panicle are, however, very crowded and self-fertilization probably takes place to a great extent.
Geographical distribution: Orchard Grass is indigenous to Europe, the temperate zone of Asia and northern Africa. It was introduced into North America very early. When it was first grown for fodder in England, about one hundred and fifty years ago, the seed was obtained from Virginia. It is now grown in temperate regions all over the world.
Habitat: Orchard Grass grows naturally in meadows, waste places, along roadsides, etc. It occurs in woods as well as in open fields, and is more adapted to shady situations than other meadow grasses. Its frequent occurrence in orchards has given it its name.
Plate 8 ORCHARD GRASS OR COCKSFOOT ( Dactylis glomerata L.).
Agricultural value: Orchard Grass is no doubt one of the best fodder grasses and is highly esteemed by farmers. It thrives remarkably well in almost any kind of soil, provided it is not too wet; it is very resistant to drought.
It is rather slow in getting established. The first year the plants are small and poor-looking, consisting chiefly of leafy shoots from the short rootstock. The second year the shoots appear in greater number and flowering stems arise in their midst, but it is only from the third year that its high yielding power is manifest. If slow to reach full development, when once established it keeps on giving a heavy yield for many years. It is an early grass and ready to cut before Timothy. For this reason it is better sown with Red Clover.
Orchard Grass is scarcely surpassed in feeding value, provided that it is cut at the right time. Its nutritive quality is highest and its yield heaviest if cut when in bloom, or even a little earlier. It becomes woody after flowering is over and loses its feeding value. It recovers quickly after cutting, the numerous leafy shoots furnishing an excellent pasture for horses and cattle. The second growth, however, should not be allowed to develop too far as it loses its palatability with age. There is little danger from pasturing too close except in an extremely dry season; on the contrary, close pasturing prevents the plants from getting coarse and woody.
If given sufficient space and nourishment, its short rootstock causes Orchard Grass to develop into dense tufts. This is an undesirable quality that should be suppressed, either by comparatively heavy seeding or by sowing it with other forage plants. In either case the tuft formation will be less marked and a grass of finer texture and of superior quality will be obtained. When sown with other forage plants, only varieties which reach maturity at the same time, such as early Red Clover, Tall Oat Grass and Meadow Fescue, should be chosen. When seeded alone for hay or pasture, twenty-eight to thirty pounds of good seed should be used to the acre; a little less for seed production.
Seed growing: When grown for seed, the same field can be harvested for five or six years, the greatest yield being obtained the third and fourth seasons. The yielding power is considerably increased if the field is top-dressed with manure every year. Orchard Grass is ready to cut for seed three or tour weeks alter it has flowered. To determine the proper time, beat some heads in the palm of the hand. If a small quantity <>f seed shakes out, it is ready to harvest. Cutting too early means inferior quality. It can be harvested with an ordinary grain binder and the sheaves, which must be rather small, should be set three to five together in small shocks. They should be left to cure from two to six weeks, depending on the weather, and then threshed without stacking.
Quality of seed: Good seed is bright straw-coloured and contains only a small amount of hulled seed and whole spikelets, or groups of seed not loosened from each other in threshing. It keeps its vitality fairly well for two years. Seed older than that should not be used as the germs are considerably weakened.