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What is Immigrant Forage Kochia?

Immigrant forage kochia, Kochia prostrata (L.) Schrad., was released in 1984 by the U.S. Forest Service Shrub Sciences Laboratory and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in cooperation with the Soil Conservation Service and five intermountain state agricultural experiment stations. It was selected from PI 314929, introduced from the Stravopol Botanical Gardens, USSR, in 1966.

scoparia at mid growth

prostrata at mid growth

For more information and comparison photos, see "Isn't This a Weed?"

Immigrant was developed as a forage and erosion control plant for the greasewood-shadscale, sagebrush-grass and pinyon-juniper rangelands of the Intermountain West. It is a perennial semi-evergreen subshrub. Forage kochia produces succulent branched stems annually that are gray-green to green in color. Oxalate levels are lower than winterfat and fourwing saltbush.

Immigrant has been the superior performing accession in experimental seeding trials, rangeland seedings and on disturbed areas in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming.  It has demonstrated superiority in longevity, forage production, forage quality, palatability and competitiveness with annuals.  It develops a fibrous root system with large deep tap root.

Kochia scoparia/Kochia prostrata:
Weed or Super drought tolerant forage?

Kochia prostrata is not to be confused with its invasive, noxious cousin: Kochia scoparia. And, although they both belong to the same genus, they exhibit extremes of the spectrum on almost every scale. Kochia scoparia, although touted in some portions of the U.S. as a drought tolerant forage and alfalfa substitute, will not survive on the lower precipitation zones where Kochia prostrata prospers. Scoparia is also subject to the possibility of nitrate poisoning when foraged, whereas Prostata does not exhibit this symptom. See Alternative Field Crops Manual article on Kochia.

Scoparia is an annual, and when it has completed its life cycle, it will die and break off in the wind and spread its seed everywhere, much like Jim Hill mustard or Russian thistle. See information on Kochia scoparia. Scoparia will not even survive in some of the climates that prostrata calls home. Prostrata is a drought tolerant, long-lived, perennial sub-shrub, which remains semi-evergreen at the base: it stays put. The seed that is produced by prostrata has very little mobility in the wind and mostly falls in the general vicinity of the mother plant. Because the mother plant is so highly aggressive for moisture, it does not allow its own seeds or most annuals in the general vicinity to survive where moisture is a limiting factor.

Neither is prostrata rhizomanous; it will not spread by its roots, such as Canada thistle or Knapweed. In short, Kochia prostrata is non-invasive.

We are dealing with a noxious, invasive, annual weed with perhaps only one handicapped redeeming quality in Kochia scoparia. Kochia prostrata on the other hand is an unqualified high value, perennial, non-invasive, fire-resistant forage with the capacity to choke out invasive exotic weeds and at the same time improve the ambient environment through advanced C4 photosynthesis.

Please see the USDA Agricultural Research Service report (pdf format) from nearly two decades of study on this subject.

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