The definition of a growth habitat is the type of stem and the positioning of the stem. The plant morphology structure and characteristic that determines growth habitat are rhizomes, stolons and tillers. The sod forming grasses that have rhizomes and stolons creeping along the ground and bunch type grass have tillers which are more upright and erect growing. The growth habitat of a plant to allow grazing tolerance by livestock or cutting hay are plants that creep along the ground. These types of plants can protect its meristems and source of energy to allow regrowth. The energy source can be leaf area or stored reserves in the rhizome, stolon, stem, bases and roots. These important growing points and leaf area are less likely to be removed when the plant is low growing along the soil surface. The plant growth habitat can change over time. The plant cannot move to a different location, but the plant can have phenotypic plasticity. Plants can adapt by changing its growing habit and become more low growing to the ground to protect its growing points and leaf area from being eaten. Plants can also change the angle from being more upright and erect to a smaller angle to protect itself. The stems will not change but the length and angle can change to help the plant adapt.
The difference between grass and legume root systems is legumes have a large tap root that allows access to nutrients and water deep into the soil. Grass root systems are more fibrous and shallow sitting on the top six to eight inches of the soil. These fibrous roots allow the plant to capture the water and nutrients at the top of the soil.
Plants are constantly competing for resources to survive. These resources are sunlight, water, and nutrients. Erect growing plants have an advantage of shading out other plants in the area. The disadvantage it allows more open space closer to the ground for creeping plants to fill in the gaps. Those low growing plants have the advantage of being more tolerant to grazing compared to erect plants.
Different root systems allow for nutrient and water competition. Legumes have a tap root and make them better in drought conditions and grasses have a more fibrous root system providing the advantage of nutrient and water uptake at the root zone. Legumes can fix nitrogen by soil bacteria invading in the root zone and forming small nodules on the root hairs to fixate nitrogen. The bacteria convert the nitrogen from the atmosphere to be used by the plant.
Nitrogen is the most limiting nutrient in our Florida pastures. Nitrogen can be added by fertilizing but this can be very expensive for producers. Legumes can be used in forage production systems to provide organic nitrogen to the soil. Legumes are higher in nutritional value. Once the animal has eaten the legumes the nitrogen being excreted from the animal’s diets can provide the plant with nutrient. Legumes can provide animals with a higher nutritional diet and better animal performance. Planting legumes instead of using inorganic nitrogen can provide better impacts for the environment. Fertilizer has to be hauled by trucks and tractors need spread it increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere.