Seed viability and re-growth of grasses used for mine waste rehabilitation
Sustainable rehabilitation can be compromised by the inability of vegetation to survive in hostile mine wastes on a long-term basis. The adverse chemical and physical properties of mine wastes, together with extreme pH conditions and lack of nutrients, provide poor growth conditions for vegetation during seed development and germination. This raises concern for the long-term survival of vegetation through means of seed production when under stress from the punitive properties of mine wastes. Seed vigour is a function of a variety of factors to which the parent plant is subjected during seed formation and maturation. Environmental conditions experienced by the maternal plant during the growth season plays a significant role in determining subsequent germination rates in seeds. Traits of offspring seed depend on the abiotic environment attributed by the growth medium during seed development and maturation The general aim of this study was to determine the viability of seed produced by a previous generation of grass species established in eight different mine wastes and two soils (namely: gypsum wastes; gold tailings with low pyrite content; gold tailings with high pyrite content; platinum tailings; kimberlite mine waste; fluorspar mine waste; andalusite mine waste; coal discard; red soil; and vertic soil) in order to identify suitable species for specific mine wastes to ensure long-term survival through means of seed production. The species selected included: Eragrostis curvula; Eragrostis tef; Cenchrus ciliaris; Eragrostis curvula; Digitaria eriantha; Cynodon dactylon; Chloris gayana; Hyparrhenia hirta; and Sorghum bicolor. The progeny seed‟s viability and ability to germinate were determined through a pot trial study and additional germination testing at the laboratory of Advance Seed (Pty) Ltd. (AS). The germination results were correlated with the growth media analyses by statistical non-parametric correlations which indicated several significant correlations among the growth media properties themselves, and with the germination of the progeny seed. C. gayana (Rhodes grass) seed had poor germination percentages, especially seed harvested from Rhodes grass grown in acidic wastes. Seed harvested from each of the E. curvula grasses grown in various mine wastes, had excellent germination percentages. According to the Repeated Measures ANOVA statistical analysis, there was a significant influence of the growth media in which the parent grass were grown as a variable on the germination of the progeny seed batches from S. bicolor, C. ciliaris, C. gayana, and D. eriantha, indicating that the environmental factors as attributed by the growth media, i.e. the eight different mine waste materials and two soils, and experienced by the maternal plant, did indeed influence the germination of progeny seed. However, it was found that significant correlations between the properties of the growth media and the germination of the progeny seed, was species dependent. The second general aim for this study was to evaluate above-ground re-growth of parent plants after cutting in the mine waste materials and soil types mentioned above. The ability of established grasses to re-grow after a cutting event was determined by cutting the above-ground biomass of the parent grasses, after which it was scored according observable above-ground growth in the following growth season. The measurement of re-growth was subjectively done by scoring the grasses according to observable above-ground biomass. Re-growth was observed for all the perennial grass species. This can be ascribed to the grasses showing resilience to stress factors attributed by the growth media; or new grasses which emerged from seed that collected in the pots, being mistaken for re-growth; or new emerging grasses from the nodes of stolons and/or rhizomes being mistaken for re-growth. However, the emergence of new grasses was an indicator of good health, as biomass allocation to rhizomes and stolons is reduced under low nutrient availability and stress conditions. Therefore the emergence of new grasses is indicative that the plant is either tolerant to stress conditions or that the plant adapted to the restriction of growth due to the roots being bound to the size of the pot.