Breeding of native cool-season grasses has the potential to improve forage production and expand the range of bioenergy feedstocks throughout western North America. Basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus) and creeping wildrye (Leymus triticoides) rank among the tallest and most rhizomatous grasses of this region, respectively. The objectives of this study were to develop interspecific creeping wildrye (CWR) × basin wildrye (BWR) hybrids and evaluate their biomass yield relative to tetraploid ‘Trailhead’, octoploid ‘Magnar’ and interploidy-hybrid ‘Continental’ BWR cultivars in comparison with other perennial grasses across diverse single-harvest dryland range sites and a two-harvest irrigated production system. Two half-sib hybrid populations were produced by harvesting seed from the tetraploid self-incompatible Acc:641.T CWR genet, which was clonally propagated by rhizomes into isolated hybridization blocks with two tetraploid BWR pollen parents: Acc:636 and ‘Trailhead’. Full-sib hybrid seed was also produced from a controlled cross of tetraploid ‘Rio’ CWR and ‘Trailhead’ BWR plants. In space-planted range plots, the ‘Rio’ CWR × ‘Trailhead’ BWR and Acc:641.T CWR × Acc:636 BWR hybrids displayed high-parent heterosis with 75% and 36% yield advantages, respectively, but the Acc:641.T CWR × ‘Trailhead’ BWR hybrid yielded significantly less than its BWR high-parent in this evaluation. Half-sib CWR × BWR hybrids of Acc:636 and ‘Trailhead’ both yielded as good as or better than available BWR cultivars, with yields similar to switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), in the irrigated sward plots. These results elucidate opportunity to harness genetic variation among native grass species for the development of forage and bioenergy feedstocks in western North America.
Larson, S.R., Pearson, C.H., Jensen, K.B., Jones, T.A., Mott, I.W., Robbins, M.D., Staub, J.E., Waldron, B.L. Development and testing of cool-season grass species, varieties and hybrids for biomass feedstock production in western North America (2017) Agronomy, 7 (1), .