Grazing North Texas – Johnson Grass

Johnson grass can produce a high volume of forage, and the forage can be tested for prussic acid content. (Photos by Tony Dean)

By Tony Dean 

In the 1840s, Colonel William Johnson owned a fertile river bottom farm in South Carolina. A friend gave Colonel Johnson seed for a grass originating in Turkey and the Colonel planted the seed expecting the grass to provide good forage for livestock. The grass became known as Johnson grass since it got its start on the Johnson plantation.

This non-native perennial spreads from seed and from creeping, scaly, underground rootstock. Johnson grass can reach heights up to seven feet. It has a bright green color, and leaves can reach 24 inches in length and ¾ inch in width.

The open seedhead is shaped like a pyramid and is 6 inches to 12 inches long. Seedhead branches growing from the main stem are mostly in groups of four. Seeds are dark brown to black and produced in quantity on each plant.

Just as Colonel Johnson expected, Johnson grass provides good forage for all classes of livestock during the growing season and can be baled for hay. Crude protein in early summer ranges from 12 to 14 percent and reduces to eight to 10 percent in fall. Seeds are utilized by all game and song birds.

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