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Forage kochia
Drawing of forage kochia Kochia prostrata (Bassia prostrata)

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Forage kochia can be used as a firebreak to stop or slow fire spread in areas where cheatgrass dominates!

What is forage kochia?
Forage kochia is native to Eurasia and was first brought to the U.S. in 1966. After extensive study, it was released in 1984 for use as forage, for soil erosion control, and to compete with halogeton. It has since been planted on about 500, 000 acres in the Intermountain West. Though related, it is different from annual kochia (Kochia scoparia), a troublesome weed.

Close-up of forage kochia leaves and stemWhat are its characteristics?
This is perennial sub-shrub averages 1 to 3 feet tall at maturity. It may live 10 to 15 years, developing an extensive root system, with a taproot up to 16 feet long. Leaves are small and thin on long, slender stems that grow from a woody base. The upper stems and leaves turn from green to a reddish brown in late-summer. The lower parts stay green and succulent year-round.

Forage kochia is adapted to regions with annual precipitation of 6-16 inches and is very tolerant of salty soils. It sprouts and regrows after burning and benefits from 70% to 80% grazing utilization. Reproduction is by seed, though it does not form a persistent seedbank.

What is its value to the Great Basin?
Forage kochia is excellent forage for both wildlife and livestock. It is palatable year-long, but is especially beneficial in winter and during dry seasons. It is valuable as a restoration species in areas where invasive weeds have made revegetation with other species ineffective. Where cheatgrass and fire have eliminated sagebrush and other shrubs, forage kochia may provide some substitute habitat. Its short stature limits its significance in areas with more snow.

What is its restoration potential? Picture of a forage kochia plant
Forage kochia has been successfully seeded in several situations, providing forage for livestock and wildlife, preventing fires and soil erosion, and improving plant diversity in weed-infested areas. It grows in areas dominated by invasive annual weeds like cheatgrass, halogeton, Russian thistle, and medusahead rye. It does not spread aggressively into healthy plant communities. Seeds are short-lived and start to lose viability within a few months of harvest.

Forage kochia does not provide a continuous fuel; it remains green throughout the year, and does not have volatile oils in its leaves. This makes forage kochia an excellent plant to use in greenstrips (firebreaks).

Images:
-Drawing:Michael B. Piep © 2006.
-Leaves: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Blair L. Waldron.
-Plant: USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Blair L. Waldron.
-Sidebar photo: Mike Pellant

Text references:
-Forage kocha workshop and tour. 2004. November 9-10. Utah State University. Logan, Utah.
-Harrison, R.D. et.al. 2002. Forage kochia helps fight range fires. Rangelands Vol.24 No.5: 3-7.
-USDA, NRCS. 2006. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 26 September 2006). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
-Utah State University, Extension. 2006. Range Plants of Utah website (http://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/index.htm, 26 September 2006).

Picture showing forage kochia stopping fire