BioEnergy Research

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 678–687

Root System Dynamics of Miscanthus × giganteus and Panicum virgatum in Response to Rainfed and Irrigated Conditions in California


  • J. Jeremiah Mann
    • Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of California
  • Jacob N. Barney
    • Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed ScienceVirginia Tech
  • Guy B. Kyser
    • Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of California
    • Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of California

DOI: 10.1007/s12155-012-9287-y

Cite this article as:
Mann, J.J., Barney, J.N., Kyser, G.B. et al. Bioenerg. Res. (2013) 6: 678. doi:10.1007/s12155-012-9287-y


Miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) are large perennial grass bioenergy crops in the USA and Europe. Despite much research into their agronomic potential, few studies have examined in situ root growth dynamics under irrigation and soil water deficits, particularly as they relate to shoot performance. We grew miscanthus and switchgrass in outdoor mesocosms under irrigated and rainfed conditions and assessed the spatial distribution and abundance of roots using minirhizotron images and whole root system sampling. Despite surviving an extended period of drought, shoot and root biomass, root length density, numbers of culms, and culm height were reduced in both species under rainfed (dry) conditions. However, rainfed switchgrass far outperformed rainfed miscanthus in all shoot and root growth metrics. The rainfed (drought) treatment reduced switchgrass and miscanthus whole plant biomass by 83 and 98 %, culm production by 67 and 90 %, and root length density by 67 and 94 % compared to irrigated plants, respectively. Root nitrogen concentration was higher for miscanthus (3-fold) and switchgrass (4-fold) in the rainfed treatment compared to irrigated plants and did not significantly differ between species. Unlike miscanthus, switchgrass grew roots continuously into regions of available soil moisture as surface soil layers grew increasingly dry, indicating a drought avoidance strategy. Our study suggests that switchgrass is more likely to tolerate drought by mining deep wet soils, while miscanthus relies on shallow rhizome production to tolerate dry soils.


Drought toleranceMiscanthusMinirhizotronSwitchgrass

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012