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Limpo grass (Hemarthria altissima)


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Common names 

Limpo grass, limpograss [English/USA]; halt grass, red vleigrass, Batavian quick grass, red vlei grass, couch, couch grass, swamp couch, swamp couch grass, red swamp grass [English/South Africa, Namibia]; bataviesekweek, perdekweek, rooikweek, rooivleigras, perdegras [Afrikaans]; tsangadzi [Manyika, Zezeru]; marotlo-a-mafubelu, mohlokxorima, namele, tajoe [Sotho]; capim gamalote [Portuguese/Brazil]; pasto clavel, gramilla canita [Spanish/Argentina] (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 2013; Cook et al., 2005)


Hemarthria fasciculata (Lam.) Kunth, Hemarthria compressa (L.f.) R.Br. subsp. altissima (Poir.) Maire, Manisuris altissima (Poir.) Hitchc., Rottboellia altissima Poir.

Related feed(s) 

Limpo grass (Hemarthria altissima (Poir.) Stapf & CE Hubbard) is a grass from tropical Africa that has been introduced in many humid tropical and subtropical zones, mainly for pasture.


Limpo grass is a perennial creeping grass that generally has a distinctive rust red colour during the dry season. It is a warm season grass (Newman et al., 2009a). It forms a dense mat because of its long spreading stolons rooting from the lower nodes. The culms, which are generally decumbent at first and then ascending, may reach 30 to 150 cm. They are generally branched and support green, smooth, glabrous, blade-shaped, folded leaves. When the leaf blades dry, they twist in corkscrew fashion. The inflorescence is a solitary raceme at the apex of the culm and its branches. Racemes are spike-like, 5-12 cm long and 2-3 mm wide. Hemarthria altissima is a poor seed producer, mainly propagated by cuttings planted in wet soils. Once planted, it readily spreads by creeping rhizomes and culms rooting at the lower nodes (Ecocrop, 2011; FAO, 2011; Cook et al., 2005).


Hemarthria altissima is mainly used as pasture but it can also be made into hay and silage. It is not suited to cut-and-carry. It grows well during early and late seasons. In Florida, it is often stockpiled for winter feeding (Nation, 2006; Anton et al., 2003). In Lesotho, the rhizomes are sometimes eaten as a vegetable (FAO, 2011; Cook et al., 2005). Commercial cultivars with different spreading abilities and potential yields are available (Cook et al., 2005).


Hemarthria altissima originated from tropical Africa and is now found in most tropical and subtropical wetlands, along river banks, seasonally flooded areas, swamps and lakes. It grows within 40°N and 34°S and from sea level to an altitude of 2000 m. Limpo grass is much valued in South America, Australia, India and Southern Africa (Ecocrop, 2011). Its optimal growth conditions are high rainfalls, average annual temperatures between 16°C and 27°C and a wide range or soil textures provided they have adequate moisture. Optimal soil pH range is between 5.5 and 6.5 (Ecocrop, 2011; Cook et al., 2005). It may withstand short droughts, moderate frosts and acidic soils (pH down to 4.5). It does not well on drained soils and its growth may be seriously hampered at temperatures above 38°C. Limpo grass is very sensitive to fires (Ecocrop, 2011; FAO, 2011; Cook et al., 2005).

Forage management 


Average DM yields range between 11 and 25 t/ha/year (Carvalho et al., 1996; Adjei et al., 1998; Wilson et al., 1977). Limpo grass responds positively to applications of N fertilizer, which enhances DM yield and decreases cell wall fibre content (Henriques et al., 2007). Application of 125 kg/ha N can increase yields from 10.5 to 17.5 t/ha DM, and at 480 kg/ha N, to nearly 30 t/ha DM (Cook et al., 2005).


Limpo grass can be sown with companion legumes such as Aeschynomene americana, Lotus pedunculatus, Vigna parkeri and Trifolium repens (Cook et al., 2005).

Limpo grass is highly stoloniferous and can make reserves within the lower parts of its culms, which enables it to withstand continuous grazing (Newman et al., 2005). Recommended grazing heights and regrowth intervals are not consistent among authors. They range from 5 cm stubble to 40 cm depending on season, environmental conditions, but also on the desired forage mass (higher the stubble higher the forage mass) and the type of grazing (rotational or continuous) (Newman et al., 2009a). However, since the leaves have more protein than the stems, it is recommended to promote leaf growth (Newman et al., 2002; Parra et al., 1974 cited by FAO, 2011). Limpo grass should be grazed to a stubble height of 25-30 cm or higher under rotational grazing and to a stubble height of 30-40 cm under continuous grazing. Continuous grazing of Hemarthria altissima pastures reduces weeds but production and persistence are higher under rotational grazing. It is therefore recommended to graze the stands continuously when weeds occur and restart rotational grazing once they have disappeared (Newman et al., 2009a; Newman et al., 2005).

Winter stockpiling

In Florida, it was found that the digestibility of limpo grass remained constant when it was stockpiled for up to four months. After rotational grazing (never below 25 cm) during the summer, livestock is removed from limpo grass pasture in August or early September and the grass is allowed to stockpile growth until the end of December. It is then grazed off in a rotational system leaving the necessary 20-25 cm of stubble. Even if frost occurs, only the tops are killed and most of the grass remains green (Nation, 2006).


Limpo grass produces a valuable fragrant silage that stores particularly well. Harvest for ensiling should be done at 4-6 weeks of regrowth and no later than 6 weeks. Ammoniation may be useful for enhancing silage value if harvest occurs later or if the grass is rain damaged (Newman et al., 2009a). In Panama, satisfactory Hemarthria altissima silage has been made using plastic bags and adding 10% molasses to the grass (Medling, 1972 cited by FAO, 2011).


Hay can be made from limpo grass. It is recommended to crush the stems to facilitate quicker drying (Newman et al., 2009a).

Environmental impact 


Under adequate N fertilization, limpo grass may be useful for reducing off-site P losses from P-impacted soils. It can then be used for hay or greenchop (Newman et al., 2009b). Limpo grass is also tolerant of Al and Mn in acidic soils and may thus be useful for revegetating acid mine spoils and other acid sites (Foy et al., 1984).

Adaptation to wetlands

Limpo grass maintains the functionality of the photosynthetic apparatus through rapid acclimation to changing O2 and light conditions. This ability for photosynthetic acclimation may be essential for adaptation to wetland habitats in which water levels fluctuate (Luo et al., 2009).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Limpo grass has a low to moderate nutritional value. The protein content in young (less than 6 weeks) Hemarthria altissima exceeds 7% DM, especially in the cooler spring or autumn periods, but during the summer, the protein concentration of 6-week-old regrowth falls below 7% DM even with the addition of 67-90 kg N/ha. After 12-16 weeks, stockpiled grass may contain only 3% DM of protein. Crude protein tends to increase with the addition of N. Protein content is higher at the top of the canopy and the protein content in the leaves is twice that in the stems. Consequently, strategies aiming at maximizing the leaf-to-stem ratio consumed by grazing animals may reduce the amount of protein supplementation required (Newman et al., 2009a).

Potential constraints 

No toxicity has been reported (2011).


Limpo grass is well-grazed by ruminants. However, due to its prostrate habit, animals cannot fully utilize it. It is considered particularly valuable for autumn and early dry-season grazing when other grasses are of low palatability and nutritive value (Lacerda et al., 2004; Göhl, 1982).

In Florida, several experiments reported in vitro OM digestibility values ranging from 70%, in young limpo grass, down to 40% in mature stockpiled grass. Limpo grass is more digestible than other summer grasses such as Bahia grass (Paspalum notatum) and it maintained its digestibility with advancing maturity better than Paspalum notatum (Newman et al., 2009a; Sollenberger et al., 1989). A similar pattern was reported in steers where unlike other grasses (Cynodon dactylonPaspalum notatum and stargrass Cynodon spp.), the in vivo OM digestibility of Hemarthria altissima forage was maintained (57-58%) or increased (46 to 58%) between 4 and 10 weeks (Arthington et al., 2005).

Studies on continuously grazed (continuous stocking) limpo grass pastures have reported average daily gains of cross-bred yearling heifers that range from 225 to 665 g/d. In cow-calf operations, cows can gain 1 unit of body condition score when grazing limpo grass pastures during the summer. However, the relatively low protein content of the grass may result in protein deficiencies in cattle grazing it. For instance, cows grazing limpo grass during the winter will lose body condition if their diet is not adequately supplemented. Protein supplements are recommended for cattle grazing stockpiled limpo grass. The quantity of supplemental protein required increases as the plant is defoliated, and a higher proportion of stems are consumed (Newman et al., 2009a). 

In Florida, several strategies have been used successfully to avoid such deficiencies, including protein supplementation, growing Hemarthria altissima with a legume, addition of N fertilizer and managing grazing for consumption of leaves rather than stems (Newman et al., 2009a; Kretschmer et al., 1979). Feeding growing cattle that were grazing limpo grass in a six-pasture rotational grazing program (5 weeks between grazings) with 113-225 g/d of crude protein from a urea-based supplement improved animal gains (from 180 to 320 g/d). Heifers grazing stockpiled limpo grass and grazing annual ryegrass three times per week had the same performance as heifers receiving 2.3 lb/head/d of cottonseed meal. Interseeding limpo grass with aeschynomene improved animal gains nearly as much as protein supplements. Increasing N fertilizer from 50 kg N/ha to 145 kg N/ha increased protein intake and daily gains in beef cattle. Additional gain (90 g/day) was found when a urea-based supplement was fed at the 145 kg N/ha level. However, a protein supplement did not improve gains in growing cattle that were rotationally grazed at a stocking rate allowing significant amounts of residual forage during the summer, presumably due to a higher leaf-to-stem ratio. Under continuous grazing, maintaining a pasture height of about 40 cm resulted in better animal gains and stand persistence than maintaining a height of 20 or 60 cm. Replacement heifers grazing stockpiled limpo grass and receiving 0, 1.1, or 2.3 kg/head/d of cottonseed meal gained 315, 590 and 770 g/d, respectively (Newman et al., 2009a).


No information found (2015).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

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 20.2 5.8 10.2 27.1 10  
Crude protein % DM 9.3 2.5 6.1 14.7 29  
Crude fibre % DM 32.6 1.6 25.4 32.6 18 *
NDF % DM 73.2 5.9 56.9 84.7 29  
ADF % DM 38.1 3.1 34.2 45.2 27  
Lignin % DM 5.7 1.0 4.6 7.9 18  
Ether extract % DM 2.3 0.7 1.7 4.0 18  
Ash % DM 8.6 1.1 6.5 10.5 24  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 2.5 0.9 1.5 5.0 15  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.0 0.3 1.6 2.6 15  
Potassium g/kg DM 25.9 5.3 19.1 37.7 15  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.4 14  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.3 0.6 1.4 3.5 15  
Manganese mg/kg DM 186 68 95 332 14  
Zinc mg/kg DM 26 6 19 40 14  
Copper mg/kg DM 10 2 5 13 14  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 61.6 9.4 46.0 73.0 6 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 58.9         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.7         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.7         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 54.0   44.0 64.0 2  

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


Arthington et al., 2005; Aumont et al., 1991; Bogdan, 1977; Campos et al., 2010; CIRAD, 1991; Lacerda et al., 2004; Xandé et al., 1989

Last updated on 11/04/2013 14:03:03

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Eugène M., Lebas F., 2015. Limpo grass (Hemarthria altissima). Feedipedia, a programme by INRA, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. http://feedipedia.org/node/617 Last updated on July 15, 2015, 13:51

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