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No. 33.—A WIRE-GRASS (Aristida stipoides, R. Br.) Vernacular name.—“ Wire-grass" is the only name known to me for this grass, and the reason for its use is obvious. This is one of the grasses which is only a useful native plant at an early period of its growth.
Botanical name.- Aristida, from the Latin arista, the beard of an ear of corn; stipoides, from two words, stipa, oidos (Greek for like, or similar to), signifying resembling the genus Stipa.
Botanical description (Flora Australiensis, VII, 561).- A perennial grass, with rigid subulate leaves, and with the sheaths minutely ciliate at the orifice. Panicle long, with a slender rhachis, the lower short erect branches usually bearing
two spikelets, the upper spikelets singly distant on short erect pedicels. Outer glume 1-nerved, about 4 inch long, glabrous or minutely pubescent. Second glume rigid, convolute finch. Flowering glume scarcely smaller than in A. hygrometrica, but the aun much finer,
about 14 inch below the branching, the branches 11 to 2 inches long. Value as a fodder.—This is a harsh, dry, wiry grass, which is, as a rule, but little relished by animals of any kind. When burnt off it produces : moderate quantity of tender feed, but this soon becomes of a hard, fibrous nature. The awns (three-pronged) with “spears" at the end, are bad for sheep, hence the grass is looked upon with disfavour by the squatter at seedripening time.
Habitat and range.--It is found in all the colonies, except Victoria and Tasmania. While mainly an interior species, it extends to the north coast, and to the islands adjacent thereto. In our own Colony it is found in the interior, on sand-ridges.
Reference to plate.- A, Spikelet showing the trifid awn; B, Showing articulation of awn with glume.
Plan of an inquiry into the merits of Prickly
pear as a forage plant.
TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH* OF PAUL BOURDE,
By J. H. MAIDEN.
The year 1893 has been marked by a great dearth of forage. A kind of universal inquiry has been set afoot by the agricultural press as to the means for guarding against similar calamities. This inquiry interests Northern Africa in a special degree, for here summer regularly brings with it a lengthened period of dry weather, and the question arises, how can we obtain fodder, and particularly green fodder? The question of keeping stock is dominated by the fact that all vegetation ceases to grow between June and October, except in irrigated country. The plant which will resist African summers in the dry country, though constantly sought after, still remains to be discovered. Unfortunately, because of our peculiar climate, all the remedies against droughts which are extolled in Europe are of scanty application in Africa.
I take advantage of the time when men's minds are directed towards matters of this kind, to address an urgent appeal to agriculturists of all countries where it grows, and to scientific men who are interested in it, with the view of collecting all that is really known of a plant which appears capable of remedying the poverty of green fodder which periodically afllicts our agriculture.
I allude to Opuntia ficus-indica, Mill., Opuntia vulgaris of some authors (sic), which is known as Cactus, Barbary fig, or Indian fig in common language. [It is one of the so-called prickly-pears of New South Wales.J.H.M.]
This plant, indigenous to America, has at the present time largely spread over the Mediterranean basin, and particularly in Tunis. Hedges are made of it, and its fruit, the Barbary fig, forms the greater portion of the food of the Arabs during the season when it is ripe. It is also put, at the present time, to some use as a forage-plant. M. Couput, Inspector of Stock at Maudjebeur, recently recommended the leaves to be given to cattle after being allowed to ferment slightly, and assured the Algerian colonists, from his own personal experience, that 75 kilos (a kilo is 21 lb.) of chaff, mixed with 75 kilos of prickly-pear, is equivalent, as far as the support of a beast is concerned, to 100 kilos of hay.
[Translator's notes.-1. The prickly-pear is a plant with which we in Australia are painfully familiar, and, moreover, a large area of this Colony has climate and soil not very dissimilar to that of Tunis. 2. In order to use an expression familiar to most Australians, I have used the term “Prickly-pear” as an equivalent to the word "Cactus" in the original, whether it refers to a prickly species or not. The context will make it clear when a non-prickly form is referred to.)
* Extract from La Revue Tunisienne, organe de l'Institut de Carthage, Tunis, 1894.
Le Journal d'Agriculture Pratique of the 23rd November, 1893, gives the composition of rations of leaves of prickly-pear and of the arbutus-tree which M. Lang, Director of Domains in Corsica, has arranged for his cheptel (a technical term used in France to denote cattle leased out on the halves. system).
In the neighbourhood of Tunis even, one can see plantations which have been made by the dairymen for the purpose of feeding their cows upon the leaves.
In all these instances it is the fleshy leaves alone which have been used. This forms a very poor food-stuff, containing at least 95 per cent. of its weight of water. The fruits are rejected. The fruits spring from the leaves of the preceding year. If these be stripped for the purpose of being given to animals the harvest of leaves is checked.
Are we not going on wrong lines in this matter? Would it not be more advantageous to use the fruit? Here is the question in regard to which it appears to me to be desirable that particular inquiry should be made, in the midst of this broad forage-plant inquiry in which we are engaged.
Let us observe, to commence with, what we know about the Barbary fig (prickly-pear).
According to a report by M. Briet, Vice-Consul of France at Almeria (Bulletin du Ministère d'Agriculture, December, 1887), Spanish manufacturers who distil the prickly-pear have obtained 34,000 kilos per hectare (a hectare is 2 acres 1 rood 35 perches). We are far behind this result in Tunis.
M. Saurin, a settler at Tebeltech, has tried to calculate the product of a hectare by taking the mean weight of the fruits of 1 square foot, and multiplying it by the proper number of feet. He obtains a result of about 20,000 kilos. We have arrived at a similar result by a much more precise method.
At my request M. Bertainchand, Director of the Laboratory of Agricultural Chemistry, has noted the yield of fruits in a prickly-pear plantation, situated in the Domain of Bir-Kassa. This plantation is 1 hectare 37 ares in extent. The land is covered with stones from ruins, and is unsuitable for any other crop. Each year, for seven years, the crop of fruits of this field has been sold for 300 francs to an Arab merchant who retails them. This fixity of the annual price indicates a regular crop. There is, of course, some variation in the product of one year and another, but the crop never fails.
This year the purchaser has taken from the field 450 donkey-loads of the fruits, which he bas sold again at 1 fr. 20 c. the load, or 510 francs for the lot. A donkey load weighs about 58 kilos; the 450 loads therefore represent a total weight of 26,100 kilos of fruit of prickly-pear for 1 hectara 27 ares, or 19,024 kilos per hectare. The harvest was a medium one; there are often better.
We thus bave a fundamental fact perfectly settled as far as Tunis is concerned-a hectare of a certain kind of prickly-pear gives a crop of about 20,000 kilos of fruits.
What is the nutritive ralue of these fruits ? To see the Arabs content with them for part of the year, we cannot doubt that it is sufficiently great. M. de Gasparin, the celebrated agriculturist, wrote on his retura frons voyage to Sicily :
* Prickly-pear is the manna, the providence of Sicily. Those who have not seen the abundance of its production, and the almost universal use which the inhabitants make of it from July to November, would consider