In the minds of many, Miscanthus x giganteusis the forerunner in the race of viable feedstock options for lignocellulosic bioenergy production.

But researchers believe “putting all their eggs in one basket” could be a big mistake.

Along those lines, cientists at the University of Illinois recently reported the first natural occurrence in several decades of Miscanthus hybrid plants in Japan.

“If M. xgiganteus is the only variety available, there are certainly risks involved such as diseases or pests causing widespread establishment problems or yield losses,” said Ryan Stewart, assistant professor of horticulture in the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois. “We are trying to find Miscanthus hybrids to increase our options. In doing so, it’s a way to hedge our bets.”

M. xgiganteus is a sterile triploid (three sets of chromosomes) formed by a natural cross of M. sacchariflorus and M. sinensis. Because it’s sterile, it can only be propagated by vegetative division, which is somewhat more difficult than propagating by seed.

“Because it’s a sterile clone, it’s more or less a dead-end for plant breeders because it can’t be improved through plant breeding,” he said.

Stewart and his team investigated overlapping populations of tetraploid M. sacchariflorus and diploid M. sinensisin Japan in hopes of finding triploid hybrid plants that may be similar in productivity to M. x giganteus. However, finding this occurrence out in the wild is a rare event, he said.

“In Japan, even when two plant species are adjacent to one another, they may have very different flowering times, meaning the likelihood of finding a hybrid is very low,” Stewart added.

But Stewart knew there were certain areas in Japan where M. sacchariflorus and M. sinensissat side by side and had overlapping flowering times. So, with the help of his colleagues, Aya Nishiwaki of the University of Miyazaki and Toshihiko Yamada of Hokkaido University, they set out to search for these rare Miscanthus hybrids.