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sorghum, tall, coarse annual (Sorghum bicolor) of the family Poaceae (grass family), somewhat similar in appearance to corn (but having the grain in a panicle rather than an ear) and used for much the same purposes. Probably indigenous to Africa, it is one of the longest-cultivated plants of warm regions there and also in Asia—especially in India and China. Because of its extreme drought resistance (because of the unusually extensive branching root system) and its ability to withstand hotter climates than corn, sorghum has been introduced to the United States and other regions.
The innumerable varieties are generally classified as the sweet sorghums or sorgos, yielding sorghum syrups and molasses from the cane juice; the broomcorns, yielding a fiber from the inflorescence that is used for making brooms; the grass sorghums (e.g., Sudan grass), used for pasture and hay; and the grain sorghums, e.g., durra, feterita, kaffir or kaffir corn, kaoliang, milo or milo maize, and shallu. Some varieties are perennials. The pulverized grain is used for stock and poultry feeds and, in the Old World, for food. Sorghums also provide cover crops and green manures, grain substitutes for many industrial processes that employ corn, and fuel and weaving material from the stems.
In the United States, sorghum is grown throughout the Great Plains area and in Arizona and California; about half the crop is used for forage and silage and half for feed grains. Only a small amount is grown for syrup, most of which is consumed locally. Johnson grass (S. halapense), a perennial native to the Mediterranean that is similar to Sudan grass, is naturalized in the United States, especially in the Southwest. It is a noxious weed in cultivated fields but is also used as a forage crop.
Sorghum is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Cyperales, family Poaceae.
See bulletins of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
a genus of annual and perennial herbaceous plants of the family Gramineae. There are about 50 cultivated and wild species, distributed in Asia (predominantly in the southwest portion), Africa (equatorial and southern), South America, North America, Europe (in the south), and Australia.
The most commonly cultivated species are common sorghum (S. vulgare), S. sernuum, durra (S. durra), S. japonicum, kafir (S. caffrorum), feterita (5. caudatum), S. dochna, sorgo (5. saccharatum), broomcorn (S. technicum), and sudan grass (S. sudanense). Johnson grass (5. halepense), a weed and fodder plant, is common, as are hybrids of 5. vulgare and S. halepense and of S. vulgare and 5. sudanense.
Sorghum, which resembles corn in appearance, has a strong root system that reaches depths of 2–2.5 m. The erect stem ranges in height from 0.5 (in dwarf forms) to 7 m (in tropical forms). Upon maturation the stem is dry (in most varieties of 5. dochna and broomcorn) or fleshy (in sorgo). S. dochna has several stems. The leaf blade is lanceolate and sharp at the edges. The inflorescence is an erect, spreading, drooping or curved panicle, which generally measures 10–70 cm in length. The tunicate or naked grain is usually oval or ovate; its coloring is white, pink, red, or yellow. One thousand seeds weigh 5–32 g.
Sorghum grows well in a variety of soils and under various climatic conditions. It is thermophile, drought resistant, and salt tolerant.
Sorghum is grown for grain and forage. It also has industrial uses. The seed, which contains 61–68 percent starch, 7.8–16.7 percent protein, and 1.7–6.5 percent fat, is used in the production of flour, groats, alcohol, and starch. Sorgo stems contain up to 18 percent sugar and are used in the production of molasses (sorghum syrup). The grain and green mass are often fed to livestock. Sorghum straw is used in the manufacture of paper, cardboard, basketry, and brooms; it is also used to cover roofs, for fuel, and for fences. The dry stems of certain species yield a red dye for leather. The young plants of many species are poisonous.
Sorghum is native to equatorial Africa; India and China are considered to be the plant’s secondary centers of origin. Sorghum has been grown in India since the third millennium B.C. and in China and Egypt since the second millennium B.C. Its cultivation was introduced into Europe in the 15th century and into the Americas in the 17th century. Sorghum has been cultivated for centuries in what is now Middle Asia and the Soviet Far East; it was first grown in southern European Russia only in the 19th century.
Worldwide plantings of sorghum totaled 27.1 million hectares (ha) in 1948–52, 34.2 million ha in 1961–65, 37.3 million ha in 1970, and 39.8 million ha in 1973 (16.0 million ha in India, 5.5 million ha in the USA, 5.1 million ha in Nigeria). In 1973 the gross harvest of grain was 48 million tons (4.5 million tons in India, 20.9 million tons in the USA, and 4.0 million tons in Nigeria), and the average harvest was 12.3 quintals per ha.
In the USSR sorghum, principally S. sernuum and 5. saccharatum, is grown on small areas in Middle Asia, Kazakhstan, the Volga region, the southern Ukraine, and Moldavia. On the best farms the yield of grain is 25–30 quintals per ha, and the yield of green mass is 300–400 quintals per ha. The best varieties and hybrids are Stepnoi 5, Katty-bash mestnoe, Kubanskoe kras-noe 1677, Kormovoi 5, and Oranzhevoe 160.
Sorghum is a row crop. It is used in after-harvest, after-mowing, and mixed plantings. It responds well to fertilization with 90–120 kg/ha NPK; sorgo grows well in soils treated with manure (40 tons/ha). The seeds are sown in broad rows, with 60–70 cm between rows. One hectare of land can support 40,000 to 120,000 plants. Sorghum is harvested at complete maturity for grain, during the period of wax ripeness for silage, and at the onset of panicle shedding for green feed. Insect pests include aphids, wire-worms, owlet moths, and European cornborers; diseases include covered smut, loose smut, stem rot, root rot, and bacterioses.
REFERENCESDemidenko, B. G. Sorgo. Moscow, 1957.
Shekun, G. M. Kul’tura sorgo v SSSR i ee biologicheskie osobennosti. Moscow, 1964.
Iakushevskii, E. S. “Mirovoe sortovoe raznoobrazie sorgo i puti ego selektsionnogo ispol’zovaniia v SSSR.” In the collection Sorgo v iuzhnykh i iugo-vostochnykh raionakh. Moscow, 1967.
Zhukovskii, P. M. Kul’turnye rasteniia i ikh sorodichi, 3rd ed. Leningrad, 1971.
N. S. KALASHNIK