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Dallis grass (Paspalum dilatatum)


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Common names 

Dallis grass, paspalum, sticky heads, dallisgrass, water grass [English]; paspale dilaté, herbe de Dallis, millet bâtard, herbe de miel, herbe sirop, herbe codaya [French]; grama de agua, pasto miel, pasto dallis, pasto chato, zacate dallis, hierba dallis, hierba de australia [Spanish]; rumput australia [Indonesian]; paspalo dilatato [Italian]; hiku nua [Niuean]; lawa lawa [Tagalog]; halanaw [Bikol]; sakata [Visaya]; シマスズメノヒエ [Japanese]; 毛花雀稗 [Chinese]


Digitaria dilatata (Poir.) H.J. Coste, Paspalum dilatatum fo. paucispica Hack., Paspalum dilatatum var. decumbens Vasey, Paspalum pauciciliatum (Parodi) Herter, Paspalum dilatatum var. sacchariferum Arechav., Paspalum eriophorum Schult., Paspalum lanatum Spreng., Paspalum ovatum Nees ex Trin., Paspalum ovatum var. grandiflorum Nees, Paspalum pedunculare J. Presl, Paspalum platense Spreng., Paspalum selloi Spreng. ex Nees, Paspalum velutinum Trin. ex Nees

Related feed(s) 

Dallis grass (Paspalum dilatatum Poir.) is a strongly tufted, leafy, sod-forming perennial grass. It has short creeping rhizomes and deep thick fibrous roots, down to 1 m deep (Ecoport, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). Culms arise from the rhizomes and reach up to 1 m. The leaves are abundant, blade-shaped, 6-25 cm long and 5-15 mm wide. The inflorescence consists of between 3 and 11 alternate, widely separated racemes. The spikelets are green or purplish, borne in pairs on a one-sided axis. The seeds are elliptic, 2 mm long and reddish brown. There are three types of dallis grass: an erect type, a common type and a prostrate type that became the "Prostrate" variety in the USA (FAO, 2010). No new variety has been launched since 1967 (FAO, 2010).

Though not of high quality, Paspalum dilatatum is valuable forage for pasture, silage and hay due to its persistance and general hardiness (FAO, 2010; Cook et al., 2005).


Paspalum dilatatum is native to South America (Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay). It is now widespread in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate areas. It was introduced into the USA around 1875 (Ecoport, 2010). It is found within 28°N-35°S in humid areas or in places where flooding (up to one week) and drought can occur within the same growing season (FAO, 2010). It grows from sea level up to an altitude of 2300 m. Optimal growth conditions are average day temperatures ranging from 23°C to 30°C, annual rainfall within 900-1300 mm or where irrigation is available, on heavy, moist, alluvial and basaltic clay soils or red loams with high fertility and a soil pH from 5.5 to 7.0. Dallis grass is very adaptive and can grow where annual rainfall is less than 750 mm, on soils in the 4.5-8 pH range. Dallis grass is remarkably tolerant of drought because of its thick rhizomes. It is mildly frost tolerant and its deep root allows it to regrow after frost (Ecoport, 2010; Cook et al., 2005).

Forage management 

Paspalum dilatatum is a valuable forage and was one of the first species used for permanent sown pastures. It is vigorous, persistent, withstands heavy grazing and competes moderately well with other species under conditions of high fertility. Dallis grass makes good quality silage provided it is cut before flowering, thus remaining free of paspalum ergot (See Potential constraints) (FAO, 2010; Cook et al., 2005). Hay making is possible but more difficult since dallis grass does not wilt readily (Villax, 1963).

Dallis grass gives moderate yields (3-15 t DM/ha) and a short grazing season in rainfed pastures. The stand is most productive if maintained at a height of 5 to 8 cm; lower grazing can reduce yields by up to two-thirds (Cook et al., 2005). It grows from spring to midsummer and declines thereafter until winter (Ecoport, 2010). It responds well to fertilizer and irrigation. Irrigated pastures may withstand 5-6 cuts/year (Villax, 1963). Sward soil fertility should be kept high, otherwise dallis grass is invaded by inferior grasses (Axonopus fissifolius) and weeds (Cook et al., 2005). Dallis grass may become sod-bound fairly quickly and should then be renovated through ploughing, disc-harrowing or deep ripping. Renovation can restore sward productivity (Partridge, 2003).

Paspalum dilatatum pastures can be improved by association with other plants. It is frequently sown with Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) (Gunter et al., 2005; Coffey et al., 2002). White clover is also a suitable companion. Shortages of dallis grass-dominant perennial pasture in autumn can be supplemented with high quality hay of subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum) and Lolium rigidum (King et al., 1981). Its association with alfalfa was not found to be valuable (Josifovich et al., 1990).

Environmental impact 

Soil erosion control

Its vigorous growth and deep rooting make dallis grass a very valuable plant for erosion control. It is used to stabilize mine dumps in South Africa (FAO, 2010).


Dallis grass is sometimes considered as a weed in rice fields (Galinato et al., 1999).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Dallis grass is not a highly nutritious forage. Crude protein content is usually below 10% DM and NDF content is about 66% DM. The nutritional value declines with maturity as shown in the following table.

Stage Days of regrowth Crude protein % DM NDF % DM
Vegetative 20-35 14.8 ± 3.5 (N=19) 65.0 ± 2.5 (N=17)
Bloom 35-80 8.8 ± 2.1 (N=15) 67.4 ± 3.5 (N=8)
Mature >100 7.5 ± 2.3 (N=8) 72.2 ± 9.1 (N=5)


Potential constraints 

Paspalum ergot

Dallis grass is very susceptible to Claviceps paspali. During its development, the seed-heads can be attacked by the paspalum ergot (Claviceps paspali) whose sclerotia grow instead of the grains. These sclerotia contain an alkaloid that may be toxic or cause abortions in both humans and animals (Baki et al., 1992). Cattle are the most commonly affected species, but sheep and horses have also been affected (Cawdell-Smith et al., 2010). Symptoms of ergotism progress in the following order: excitement, distrust of people, aggressiveness, trembling, loss of muscular control, staggers, falls and, in some cases, death. Affected animals may recover in a few days if removed from infected areas in the early stages of excitement (FAO, 2010; McMullen et al., 1998). Heavy grazing or frequent and short cuttings during summer can suppress seed-heading and prevent ergot infection (Cook et al., 2005). Paspalum dilatatum pastures should be inspected for ergot infected seed heads before the introduction of animals (Cawdell-Smith et al., 2010).


Paspalum dilatatum is a valuable forage due to its vigour, persistence and ability to withstand heavy grazing and trampling (Cook et al., 2005). It is ususally grazed, but is suitable for hay and silage. It should be cut before flowering to obtain the best quality hay. It makes good silage with pH reported values of 4.8. Volatile fatty acids account for 5% DM, and ammonia N accounts for 20% of total ammonia (Cook et al., 2005).


Paspalum dilatatum is very palatable when young up to the pre-flowering stage. Its palatability declines with maturity particularly when inflorescences are infected with ergot (Cook et al., 2005). It was found to be more palatable than tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) and Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) (Nada et al., 1985). In cattle, density, height, stem horizons and their relative positions in the sward are determinants of bite weight, which accounts for most of the variability of intake rate. Bite weight was reduced in swards with stems compared to those with pseudostems (Laca et al., 1992; Flores et al., 1993).

Digestibility and dry matter intake

Organic matter digestibility is about 60%, corresponding to a ME content of 8.4 MJ/kg DM. Average DM intake is 1.7% LW.

Stocking rates

Dallis grass supports up to 25 sheep per ha during the growing season (Cook et al., 2005). With dairy cows, stocking rates of 5 heads/ha in summer pasture (70% dallis grass) and 2.5 heads/ha in winter (temperate species) led to a production of 10 t/ha of milk (Cook et al., 2005). With beef cattle (steer calves), stocking rates between 5.7 and 7.3 heads/ha resulted in optimal net returns, which increased with the rate of application of N fertilizer (Gunter et al., 2005).


As Paspalum dilatatum does not have a high nutritional value, supplementation with maize silage, cereal grains and protein or nitrogen sources is required for dairy cows. Cows grazing unsupplemented Paspalum dilatatum ate less pasture that those grazing white clover (Trifolium repens), and milk yield dropped rapidly until the cows ceased production. Supplementation with maize silage alone or combined with barley grain, urea or cottonseed meal stopped the decline in milk production (Stockdale, 1997). Supplementation is more beneficial when pastures are short in height because this practice minimizes substitution of supplement for pasture and maximizes marginal returns in milk yield (Wales et al., 1999). Dairy cows fed restricted amounts of dallis grass-dominant pasture in autumn gave 1.1 kg of fat-corrected milk per kg of cereal grain-based concentrate when fed 3 kg DM of concentrate per day, but feeding beyond this level resulted in decreasing marginal responses (Walker et al., 2001).

Supplementation with maize silage, of dairy cows grazing dallis grass-dominant pastures of low quality (CP 12% DM), led to high levels of pasture substitution, poor milk responses associated with low rumen ammonia nitrogen and faecal N concentrations. Additional N supplementation was therefore necessary, even at feeding levels as low as 2 or 3 kg DM of maize silage/head/day (Moran et al., 1993). However, in the case of cows supplemented with 8 kg DM of a cereal-based feed, the metabolizable protein was estimated to be sufficient to support 22 kg milk/head/day without requiring additional nitrogen supplementation (Wales et al., 2000).


No information found (2012).

Horses and donkeys 

No information found (2012).

Nutritional tables

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 23.8 3.9 19.1 30.0 6
Crude protein % DM 10.3 3.0 6.2 13.9 11
Crude fibre % DM 35.1 5.3 26.5 45.3 11
NDF % DM 68.5 *
ADF % DM 41.0 *
Lignin % DM 5.6 *
Ether extract % DM 2.5 0.8 1.5 3.7 9
Ash % DM 9.4 2.5 6.4 14.7 11
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 3.4 0.9 2.7 5.0 6
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.3 0.7 1.1 3.0 6
Potassium g/kg DM 25.7 5.7 18.7 33.2 6
Sodium g/kg DM 2.6 1
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.8 0.5 1.3 2.8 6
Manganese mg/kg DM 359 187 532 2
Zinc mg/kg DM 21 20 21 2
Copper mg/kg DM 8 6 10 2
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 62.4 6.9 61.6 74.1 3 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 59.7 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.9 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.8 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 52.2 2.6 49.3 54.1 3

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Butterworth, 1963; CIRAD, 1991; Coetzee, 1948; French, 1943; Kaligis et al., 1990

Last updated on 27/11/2012 15:49:06

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Crude protein % DM 9.0 1.7 6.9 10.3 10
NDF % DM 68.9 68.9 73.4 2 *
ADF % DM 38.9 1.1 37.4 40.1 4
Lignin % DM 5.1 0.3 4.6 5.2 4 *
Ash % DM 9.4 2.9 5.4 11.6 10
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 52.5 5.8 43.9 59.5 7
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 49.2 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 42.8 16.7 30.0 67.0 4

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Hart et al., 1990; Minson, 1971; Punia et al., 1987

Last updated on 27/11/2012 15:48:02

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Sauvant D., 2015. Dallis grass (Paspalum dilatatum). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://www.feedipedia.org/node/404 Last updated on May 11, 2015, 14:30

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)
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