Sorgum bicolor subsp. bicolor
40 seeds minimum
Germination tested 1/2018: 58%
Nad-i-Ali, Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan
EFN INTRODUCTION. This is an interesting sorghum with a fascinating history tied closely to the United States' long and troubled relationship with Afghanistan. What little we know of the history of this plant traces back to USDA plant explorer Howard Scott Gentry, a botanist with an interest in ethnobotany who traveled the world in search of interesting and useful plants. He was considered the world's foremost authority on agaves. Over the course of his long career (he died at the age of 90 in 1993) he introduced 15,000 different plants to the United States. One of them was this sorghum. It was collected in a town called Nad-i-Ali on November 6th, 1953. The USDA records state that this village was in Kandahar Province, but our research indicates that there is no such town in Kandahar. However, there is a Nad-i-Ali in Helmand Province, on the outskirts of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah — which happened to be known in the 1950s as "Little America", and for this reason we are nearly certain this sorghum comes from Helmand. Very few people know the story of America's post-World War II "nation building" efforts in Afghanistan when that country was still ruled by a monarchy. The French-educated King Muhammed Zahir Shah, who had kept Afghanistan neutral during the War, believed his country needed outside help to modernize. He thought the destruction of much of the rest of the world was a unique opportunity. He reached out to both the United States and the Soviet Union (among others), and received a great deal of aid. Lashkar-Gah became the headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers there to assist in the development of a massive irrigation project under the Helmand Valley Authority (modeled after the hugely successful Tennessee Valley Authority). Helmand is a hot, dry, desert place, and the irrigation canals were intended to make it Afghanistan's bread basket. Unfortunately, a desire to move quickly and a failure to adequately study the geology of the area meant that vast quantities of water ended up draining right into the porous ground. Though untold money and resources went into the project, the greatest legacy of those days (when Lashkar Gah featured broad, tree-lined streets, with American-style brick houses) is a successful opium-growing economy today, and little else. But before the traditional subsistence farming way of life was so profoundly disrupted, Gentry collected this sorghum from the village of Nad-i-Ali. Beyond that, and the date of collection, the records are silent.
From our experience growing it, we presume it was used primarily for animal feed, because the seeds are completely covered by a dark black glume. To be used as a grain for human consumption would require a great deal of work. The mildly sweet stalks might also have been chewed, and the seed heads may have been stripped of seeds for use as brooms (like other "broomcorn" sorghum varieties). The plants grow vigorously to over 6 feet tall. Coming from an area with extremely hot and dry summers, and often with cold nights during the rest of the year, we expect this variety's resilience may prove useful in sorghum breeding programs. It is also a beautiful plant, well worth a place as an ornamental in any garden. Seeds were grown for EFN by Clint Freund and Kass McKinnon of Cultivating the Commons in Madison, Wisconsin, which will receive half of the proceeds of all sales.