Marion lespedeza is a forage that sounds almost too good to be true. It only has to be planted once, thrives on poor soil, stands up to hot summers and is high in nutrient value. But USDA plant breeder Paul Beuselinck says Marion lespedeza is all that and more.

"Marion lespedeza provides forage in July and August when it's critical," says Beuselinck. That's one of the many reasons this forage is growing in popularity with producers, he adds.

Other attributes of Marion lespedeza include tannins in the plant that allow it to be grazed without causing bloat, says Beuselinck. The tannins also have rumen by-pass qualities, so most of the protein value of the plant can be used by the animal.

Suited to the southeastern region of the U.S., Marion lespedeza is a warm season annual legume which germinates in the spring, grows throughout the summer, then makes seed and dies in the fall.

That would be the end of most annuals, but Marion lespedeza produces a large enough seed crop that it naturally reseeds itself. Its drought and disease resistance are an added benefit that help Marion lespedeza stands persist. These are important characteristics that are not common to all lespedezas.

Lesson In Lespedeza Annual lespedeza was introduced into the U.S. from China, Japan and Korea in the mid-1800s. Two species of annual lespedeza, Korean and striate, are common, reports Charles West, University of Arkansas agronomy professor.

Korean lespedeza has the advantage of early flowering, and therefore the potential to produce a high seed yield. However, Korean lespedeza is susceptible to disease. Striate or Kobe species have an advantage in disease resistance, but typically flower three weeks later than Korean species and are not reliable seed producers.

In order for an annual lespedeza stand to regenerate each spring, the cultivar must produce seed and resist diseases. At present, only Marion will do both.

Marion is an early maturing striate lespedeza, allowing more seeds to be produced. It is a shortplant, with flowering sites close to the ground so some seed can be produced even when it's being grazed, according to West. Marion also shows a high resistance to bacterial wilt, tar spot and southern blight - common diseases with lespedeza. This resistance results in greater leaf retention and improves forage quality in late summer.

Today, Marion lespedeza can only be produced and marketed as certified seed. Therefore, producers get all the benefits of Marion lespedeza without stands being contaminated with Kobe or Korean species, says Beuselinck.

Establishment Is Easy U "Marion lespedeza is one of the easiest legumes to establish," says Beuselinck. He recommends a broadcast seeding at a rate of 8-15 lbs./acre in mid-winter. Seed can even be placed on top of snow. If broadcasting into existing pasture, Beuselinck says to graze grasses closely in the fall so lespedeza can establish itself the following spring.

U Unlike alfalfa, Marion lespedeza is tolerant of infertile and/or acidic soils with a pH of 5.3-6.0, whereas alfalfa and red and white clover require a pH of 6.3 or 6.4.

U Dry matter yields are modest, typically only about 1-2 tons of dry matter/acre, but forage quality is adequate for beef cattle, says West. In August crude protein levels average 15-17% and TDN (total digestible energy) levels are around 63%.

U Marion lespedeza's greatest potential seems to be in combination with grasses for grazing. It is often grown with tall fescue, not necessarily to boost yields, but to produce grazeable forage during the summer dry period. It also does well as a companion plant grown with orchardgrass and to some extent bermudagrass, says West.

If used alone as a hay crop, production is about 211/42-3 tons/acre. Korean lespedeza is generally taller growing and used more for hay, says West.

U Light grazing in mid- to late summer will allow seed production for natural reseeding. To ensure reseeding, Marion should not be grazed after September 1, or 40 days prior to the first frost, says Beuselinck. Hay fields should be cut when the lespedeza reaches the early bloom stage.

U To prevent Marion lespedeza from being crowded out by fescue or other grasses, it should not be heavily fertilized with nitrogen. Companion grasses should also be grazed in the spring to prevent excessive shading of seedlings during April and May. Marion lespedeza stands should last indefinately if they're managed correctly and allowed to reseed, says West.

U Beuselinck says Marion lespedeza's main drawback is seed cost. Seed is around $2-3.50/lb. But it's only a one-time cost, he says. Seed availability is also improving.

U Annual lespedeza is also a good wildlife plant. Quail are particularly fond of the seed.

For more information contact the Missouri Seed Improvement Association at 573/449-0586.