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Why is Napier called Elephant Grass?

Elephant, or Napier grass, is globally popular as a forage crop.

It’s a valuable and versatile grass species known for its tall size, fast growth, and diversity in agriculture and other industries. The grass grows on the edges of turbulent waters, shrubs, swamps, and other wetland habitats.

While elephant grass offers many benefits in the agriculture and manufacturing industries, it has a few disadvantages that may prohibit proper vegetation growth.

We’ve covered more about elephant grass’s characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks.

What is special about elephant grass?

Elephant grass, scientifically called Pennisetum purpureum or Cenchrus purpureus, is a grass species common in African grasslands.

It’s special compared to other grass species because it requires low nutrients and water, making it suitable for growth in uncultivated land.

Napier grass is adaptable and resilient to growing conditions such as climate and soil. The grass species can withstand drought, poor soil fertility, and high temperatures compared to other forage crops.

This feature enables the grass to grow in diverse environments and areas with challenging agricultural conditions.

It also has an environmental impact, such as an erosion control ability due to its extensive root system. The deep network of roots binds the soil and prevents erosion from water or wind.

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Because of this, elephant grass is used as a soil control strategy, especially on slopes or areas prone to erosion.

Does elephant grass make good hay?

Yes, elephant grass can make good hay for livestock. Hay is made from dried grass or other forage crops cut and stored to serve as animal feed.

To make good hay, elephant grass should be cut at an early stage of maturity since the stem becomes too rough as the plant matures.

Hay
Image: flickr/gpdavidson

In addition, elephant grass usually has a high quality and nutritional value at an early vegetative stage before it produces seed heads. It has higher protein content and is more esculent, making it suitable for animal consumption.

It’s also a good source of nutrition for animals since it contains fiber, proteins, and carbohydrates.

Animal feed industries use it to produce dehydrated grass pellets and sold as supplementary animal feed to be consumed by goats, cows, sheep, and other herbivores.

However, the quality of elephant grass hay differs depending on the stage of growth it was harvested, drying methods, and storage conditions.

Therefore, practicing proper harvesting and drying techniques is important to get the best quality and nutritional value from elephant grass hay.

Characteristics of elephant grass

There is no difference between elephant grass and Napier grass since they are the same grass species and have the same characteristics.

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However, it has distinctive features that separate it from other forage crops, and they include the following:

1. Tall height

Elephant grass has an impressive height of about 3-5 meters (10-16 feet) or even higher.

It’s among the tallest grass species because of its striking and commanding presence.

2. Long leaves

The leaves of Napier grass are several feet long, up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length.

They are also broad and flat with rich-green color, enabling photosynthesis and contributing to the plant’s high biomass production.

3. Robust stem

Elephant grass has thick and rough stems to provide firm structural support to the tall plant.

The stems are covered in layers of fine hair and have a coarse texture to give the grass resilience and the ability to withstand harsh physical conditions. 

4. Deep roots

Elephant grass has a well-developed and deep network of root systems. The extensive and deep roots aid the plant in obtaining water and nutrients from the soil.

Doing so enhances its ability to withstand drought and other harsh growing conditions. The deep roots also contribute to soil erosion and stabilization control.

5. High biomass production

Elephant grass has rapid growth and biomass production. This makes it suitable for animal forage, soil stabilization, and biochemical production.

Is elephant grass invasive?

Elephant grass is considered invasive in certain country regions or areas where they grow beyond their native regions. In various parts of Africa, elephant grass coexists with other native plant species and is part of the ecosystem.

A man standing next to a Napier grass plantation
A man standing next to a Napier grass plantation. Image: flickr/Lishabora

However, it becomes invasive and competes with other vegetation when introduced to new habitats such as tropical and subtropical areas.

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Its invasiveness may cause negative impacts such as reduced biodiversity and water flow and affect native animal and plant communities.

This can be prevented by managing and controlling elephant grass growth and spread.

Disadvantages of elephant grass

While elephant grass offers many benefits to the ecosystem, agriculture, and industries, it has disadvantages and drawbacks. Here are a few disadvantages of elephant grass:

  • Invasive nature: Due to its rapid growth, elephant grass tends to be invasive in certain regions, especially in a new environment. It can quickly and wildly spread when not controlled and managed, causing an imbalance in the ecosystem, displacement, and competition with native plantations for resources.
  • Required management: Due to its tall structure and rapid growth, the grass species requires regular maintenance and maintenance. Lack of management may cause it to lose its nutritional value over time and grow without control.

Elephant grass is a good forage crop for making hay as it has great nutritional value during its early stages of maturity. In addition, it offers many benefits besides making hay, like acting as a soil conservative and creating biochemical products.

However, it requires regular maintenance and may be invasive in other regions. Overall, elephant grass is best for livestock feed and as a soil erosion control tool.