A number of crop wild relatives can tolerate extreme stress to a degree outside the range observed in their domesticated relatives. However, it is unclear whether or how the molecular mechanisms employed by these species can be translated to domesticated crops. Paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum) is a self-incompatible and multiply stress-tolerant wild relative of maize and sorghum. Here, we describe the sequencing and pseudomolecule level assembly of a vegetatively propagated accession of P. vaginatum. Phylogenetic analysis based on 6,151 single-copy syntenic orthologues conserved in 6 related grass species places paspalum as an outgroup of the maize-sorghum clade. In parallel metabolic experiments, paspalum, but neither maize nor sorghum, exhibits a significant increase in trehalose when grown under nutrient-deficit conditions. Inducing trehalose accumulation in maize, imitating the metabolic phenotype of paspalum, results in autophagy dependent increases in biomass accumulation.