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Quila (Chusquea quila)

Datasheet

Description
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Common names 

Quila

Synonyms 

Arundo quila Molina

Feed categories 
Description 

Quila (Chusquea quila Kunth) is a perennial woody grass of the bamboo family which is native to the humid forests of the South American highlands in Chile, Argentina and Brazil. It covers large areas in its native range and it is used as a dry season browse by cattle farmers in Southern Chile. The periodic flowering of quila has been linked for centuries to devastating rodent outbreaks, resulting in a negative perception of the plant by local farmers.

Morphology and life cycle

Chusquea quila is a perennial woody grass that reaches up to 10 m. Its culms are solid (not hollow as in other bamboo species) only 2-5.5 m tall but they are densely ramified (up to 4 levels), resulting in a large plant biomass. Quila can be decumbent or climbing. In the latter case, it attaches itself to trees, reaching a height of more than 20 metres, which allows it to place its foliage in the middle strata of the forest. The culms are 7-8 mm in diameter, with nodes in which numerous flowering branches of up to 35 cm in length are inserted. Each node can contain up to 40 flowering branches. The leaves are lanceolate-elliptic, 10 to 12 cm long, with 7 to 9 parallel nerves, sharp margins, a marked and prominent central nerve, and a sharp and punctured apex. The inflorescence is a large panicle, measuring 14-18 cm, with alternating long branches of 6-10 cm. The fruit is a caryopsis. Chusquea quila has rhizomes that helps the plant to propagate (Roasio et al., 2003; Chilebosque, 2020; Belov, 2020). Chusquea quila often forms monospecific thickets called quilantos, quilantales or quilantares. It can constitute a dense and imprenetrable underbrush (Chilebosque, 2020).

One characteristic of Chusquea quila is its gregarious and periodical flowering. The average cycle length, once believed to be about 30 years, is now estimated to be about 12 years. When a bloom happens, 70-90% of the total population flowers at the same time during the spring-summer months over a relatively large area. The plant defoliates during flowering and has no vegetative growth. Seed dissemination (mast seeding) starts in the summer and peaks in January (50 million seeds/ha). The plants later dry and die, and the next generation emerges from the seeds in the following years. Chusquea quila takes about 5 years to reach a height of more than 2 m, and the biomass is reconstitued after less than 7 years (Roasio et al., 2003; Soto Vidal, 2005).

Uses

Quila browse is used by cattle farmers in Southern Chile as forage when pasture becomes scarce during the winter period (Roasio et al., 2003; González Cangas et al., 2006). Like other bamboo species, it is a multipurpose plant and is used in handicraft work, lightweight housing, fences, ethnomedicine, and human food (bamboo shoots). The seeds used be ground into a flour by indigenous populations. Chusquea quila is being investigated as a potential biomass resource for the industrial production of cellulose and lignin (Oliveira et al., 2016; González Cangas et al., 2006; Wilhelm de Mösbach, 1955). Quila is sometimes cultivated as an ornemental species, though less so than other Chusquea species (Cooper, 2007). While bamboos have a major cultural and economic importance in Asia, this is not the case for Chusquea species in South America. Rural populations in Southern Chile, particularly the Mapuche, have a conflictual relation with quila. They perceive it not only as an invasive and often useless plant, but also as the source of natural calamities, due to the fact that the flowering described above is followed by devastating rodent outbreaks and forest fires (See Environmental impact). This explains why quila, despite being widespread, has remained underutilized and little investigated until the 2000s, notably as a source of livestock fodder (Roasio et al., 2003; González Cangas et al., 2006).

Distribution 

Chusquea quila is native of the humid forests of the Andes and Brazilian highlands, where it covers wide areas. In Chile, quila is native to the forests of Araucanía, Valdivia, Llanquihue, and Chiloe at an altitude of up to 800 to 900 meters above the sea level. Chusquea species in Chile are estimated to cover about 4 million ha. In Argentina, quila is found in the Provinces of Neuquén and Río Negro (Oliveira et al., 2016; Roasio et al., 2003). Chusquea quila grows in humid areas with almost constant rainfall. Short dry periods are possible but should not exceed 1 month. In some areas, quila grows in water or has its roots in water, and it is found in marshes, bogs, watercourses, lake and river shores. The plant tolerates low temperatures (-8° C), and an occasional snow cover for up to a couple of weeks per year (Belov, 2020). Chusquea quila is a hardy plant that develops and spreads quickly and vigorously, and it is known for its ability to colonise disturbed areas. This is due in part to its rhizome, which produces vegetative shoots and makes the plant resistant to fire (Roasio et al., 2003). 

Environmental impact 

Invasive species

Chusquea quila is often considered as an invasive species. Its impenetrable thickets or underbrush occupy hectares that could be otherwise used for agricultural and sylvicultural purposes. It competes with tree species and makes agricultural tasks more difficult (Roasio et al., 2003; González Cangas et al., 2006; Oliveira et al., 2016).

Quila blooms

The large scale blooming of Chusquea quila and of the related species Chusquea valdiviensis has caused a negative perception of these plants in rural populations of Southern Chile, for whom this blooming symbolizes a year of misery and scarcity, a view ingrained in popular consciousness (Barreau Daly, 2014). The blooms have been linked for centuries to mouse plagues called ratadas, explosive increases in rodent abundance or density that happen in the year following the bloom. The actual causes of the bloom and the mechanisms of rodent outbreaks are still unclear, though it said that the latter is a consequence of the rodents feeding on the bamboo seeds. Between 1552 and 2002, there were 18 ratadas in Chile tied with blooms of Chusquea quila and/or Chusquea valdiviensis (Jaksic et al., 2003). These outbreaks cause agricultural losses, food losses, and cattle can no longer be fed on quila during the following winters because the plants are dead. Several mouse species involved in ratadas are reservoirs of emerging viral diseases (notably hantavirus), and dead rodents contaminate waterways (Roasio et al., 2003; Jaksic et al., 2003; Barreau Daly, 2014). An additional problem is that the large quantities of dried quila left on the ground after the bloom constitute a source of fuel that triggers uncontrollable fires during summer (Roasio et al., 2003; Barreau Daly, 2014).

Protection against erosion

This species proliferates abundantly when trees disappear, covering the altered area and protecting it from erosion (Roasio et al., 2003). 

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Information about the nutritive value of Chusquea quila foliage is scarce. From the few data published in the literature, its protein content is quite variable and ranges from 10 to 18% DM. Crude fibre content is about 30% DM (Vargas et al., 1965; Siebald, 1978; Anrique et al., 2014). Data obtained on the related species Chusquea uliginosa show a decrease in protein content from April to August (12 to 8% DM) followed by an increase in November (Siebald, 1978).

Treatment of finely chopped quila forage with ammonium hydroxide (2.5 or 5%) or calcium oxide (4 or 8.2%) for 3, 7, 14 or 28 days reduced NDF content, the reduction being higher with the longer hydrolysis times. Crude protein content increased with the ammonium hydroxide treatement and ash content with the calcium hydroxide content (Alomar et al., 1985).

Potential constraints 

No problems have been reported with the consumption of Chusquea quila.

Ruminants 

In Southern Chile, Chusquea quila foliage is traditionally fed to cattle when there is no pasture available (autumn and winter). Though quila leaves can have a relatively high protein content, their energy content does not seem sufficient for the maintenance requirements of cattle (Roasio et al., 2003). In a trial carried out in Araucanía, diets given to gestating beef cows during the dry season consisted in cereal stubble (wheat and oat) associated with quila browse, or in natural pasture associated with quila and wild blackberry (Rubus ulmifolius) browse (Contreras et al., 2015).

In a trial with 360 kg steers grazing the related species Chusquea uliginosa during 100 days in winter, weight losses of 56 kg/head were recorded at the end of the period. However, there were no health problems and the animals recovered well on grassland in the following spring. It should be noted that in this experiment Chusquea uliginosa was found to have much a lower protein content than Chusquea quila (10 vs 18% DM) (Siebald, 1978).

The massive loss of the plants after blooming, which lasts several years, is a problem for smallholder farmers who depend on quila to feed their livestock (Barreau Daly, 2014).

Rabbits 

No information seems available in the international literature (June 2020) on the utilisation of Chusquea quilea in rabbit feeding. However, as quila is used without problems for ruminants feeding, it may be considered as a potential forage for rabbits like other bamboo species. Since quita is not a very nutritive forage, direct experiments would be welcome.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 46.6   36.3 56.8 2  
Crude protein % DM 13.9   10 18.2 3  
Crude fibre % DM 31   27.4 34.5 2  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 52.7       1  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 33       1  
Ether extract % DM 2.8   1.9 3.6 2  
Ash % DM 10.8   10.2 11.3 2  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.2         *
               
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 1.8       1  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.1       1  
Magnesium g/kg DM 1.2       1  
               
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 66         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 63.1         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 11.5         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.2         *
               
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 7.9         *
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 43.6         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.

References

Anrique et al., 2014; Siebald, 1978; Vargas et al., 1965

Last updated on 15/10/2020 15:55:45

References
References 
Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2020. Quila (Chusquea quila). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/473 Last updated on October 15, 2020, 17:30