Types of grass found in the Caribbean island of Jamaica provide forage for livestock and prevent soil erosion from the steep hillside farming terraces. The New Agriculturalist report on Jamaica tells how, “more than 75 percent of the country has a slope of 10 degrees or more.” Most grasses grown in Jamaica are imported and naturalized, some as long as 50 years ago.
Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
Elephant grass is a hardy perennial plant with greenish-brown leaves and stems which grows in clumps, similar to bamboo; it has a high leaf to stem ratio and grows to a maximum height of approximately 8 meters. The Jamaican version, “Mot dwarf” elephant grass grows up one meter tall and was originally bred in Georgia, U.S. The Mot type offers a lower yield than other Jamaican grasses, such as Napier grass, but more leaves grow on each plant, making it a good choice to plant for animal fodder. The Mot plants are very hardy, thoroughly drought tolerant and well suited to tropical climates. Plants require propagation from cuttings, because, like many cultivars, the seeds do not produce a satisfactory or “true” plant.
Signal Grass (Brachiaria decumbens)
Signal grass is small perennial plant with bright green leaves, growing in tufts which form a dense ground cover; it is the most common and popular variety of brachiaria found in Jamaica. Signal grass easily withstands heavy grazing, poor soils and low-light conditions (e.g. under trees in coconut plantations). Seasonal flooding from heavy rains is tolerated with good drainage; plants suffer in locations with standing water. Varieties include brachiaria humidicola, a similar plant with a higher leaf to stem ratio. This type of brachiaria is the subject of trials by the Bodles Research Station, part of an on-going search for the best strains of grass suitable for planting in Jamaica.
Bermuda Grass Varieties (cynodon)
Bermuda grass is a tough, short dense perennial plant with dark green leaves and stems. Originally thought to have come from Pakistan or Turkey, Bermuda grass is now found in Africa, Asia and North America. Due to qualities of extreme hardiness and vigorous growth, Bermuda grass is used for sports fields and it’s a popular lawn variety in the U.S. The drought tolerant qualities enable it to survive long periods with no rain, common in Jamaica. Plants will become dormant to survive long periods of drought, up to several months; unlike other grass types found in Jamaica, Bermuda grass tolerates weeks of heavy flooding and even deep cover by flood waters. Varieties grown in Jamaica include Cynodon sp. (Tifton 85), a cultivar developed in the U.S. It has broader, darker green leaves and longer stems than the domestic U.S. variety, an ideal fodder crop, suited to harvesting for hay.