Saccharum ravennae (ravenna grass)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Saccharum ravennae (L.) L.
Preferred Common Name
- ravenna grass
Other Scientific Names
- Agrostis ravennae (L.) P.Beauv.
- Andropogon ravennae L.
- Erianthus elephantinus Hook.f.
- Erianthus jamaicensis Andersson
- Erianthus monstieri Carrière
- Erianthus parviflorus Pilg.
- Erianthus purpurascens Andersson
- Erianthus ravennae (L.) P.Beauv.
- Erianthus scriptorius Bubani
- Ripidium elephantinum (Hook.f.) Grassl
- Ripidium ravennae (L.) Trin.
- Saccharum elephantinum (Hook.f.) V.Naray. ex Bor
- Saccharum jamaicense Trin.
- Saccharum parviflorum (Pilg.) Pilg.
- Saccharum ravennae subsp. parviflorum (Pilg.) Maire
- Tripidium ravennae (L.) H.Scholz
- Tripidium ravennae subsp. parviflorum (Pilg.) H.Scholz
International Common Names
- English: hardy pampas grass; italian sugarcane; plume grass
- Spanish: canna de ravenna
- Chinese: yu zhe mao
Local Common Names
- Italy: canni di ravenna
- Sweden: sockergräs
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
S. ravennae is a tall bunchgrass, with bamboo like stems producing large attractive flowers more than 3 m above the ground. The species is native to a broad area from the Mediterranean to China and is a wild relative of the cultivated sugarcane, S. officinarum. S. ravennae is reported as spreading in California, USA. Wild sugarcane, S. spontaneum, is already known as an important invasive and it is likely that S. ravennae and other species in the genus will be more widely reported as invasive in the years to come. Widely introduced as an ornamental, for crop breeding and in more recent years as a potential bioenergy crop, S. ravennae has all the characteristics of an invasive species. It has escaped from cultivation in the USA, spreading by the production of masses of very small wind-dispersed seeds, in particular along watercourses.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Saccharum
- Species: Saccharum ravennae
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
There are some 25-30 species of Saccharum as described in The Plant List (2013) and USDA-ARS (2015). Saccharum is one of the many genera in the grass (Poaceae) family, which contains many of the world’s useful food plants as well as many of its invasive weeds.
S. ravennae L. (L.) is an accepted ‘good species’, although different authorities, e.g. (L.) Murray (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2015), indicate that there may be some disagreements as to the exact species limits. Taxonomy is confused by the high level of natural hybridization within the genus and with the existence of ‘synthetic species’ developed for cultivation (Amalraj and Balasundaram, 2006). However, it now appears accepted that S. ravennae is in the subfamily Panicoideae, tribe Andropogoneae, with one accepted subspecies, subsp. parviflorum (The Plant List, 2013).
There are many reported synonyms of S. ravennae (The Plant List, 2013). However, of these, the most common is Erianthus ravennae which is still used in the current literature (Shimomae et al., 2013). As E. ravennae, there are a number of synonyms which indicate the genetic variability, including var. binervis, var jamaicensis and var. purpurascens. All references in the literature referring to E. ravennae are included in this datasheet as S. ravennae. The common name ‘ravenna grass’ refers to the town of Ravenna in Italy.
DescriptionTop of page
S. ravennae is a large clump-forming perennial grass, producing culms 2-3 (1.5-4.5) m tall, stems ca. 1 cm in diameter, with yellowish lower nodes, villous, but glabrous below the panicles. Lower leaf sheaths hirsute with tubercle-based hairs, upper sheaths smooth. Leaf blades 50-120 cm long, and 0.5-2.0 cm wide, woolly above ligules, with long yellowish hairs, otherwise glabrous, with scabrid margins, tapering to the midrib at their bases, and a filiform apex. Ligule is a narrow rim, back villous with ca. 2 mm hairs. Panicle dense, lobed, 25-70 cm long and 10-15 cm wide, greyish in colour, sometimes tinged pink, axis glabrous, much branched with short, crowded racemes 1.5-3 cm long, much shorter than the supporting branches, having 3-4 joints, silky villous. Spikelets 3-6 mm, purplish; callus hairs as long as spikelet; lower glume lanceolate, membranous, back glabrous or pilose with spreading hairs, keels scabrid, apex attenuate, minutely notched; lower lemma three quarters as long as the glumes; upper lemma elliptic, apex acute, awned; awn almost straight, 4-8 mm. Anthers 3, each 2 mm.
Plant TypeTop of page
Grass / sedge
DistributionTop of page
S. ravennae has a broad Eurasian native range from Spain to China. It includes the entire Mediterranean region, Europe, North Africa and the Near East, the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in the Horn of Africa and across central Asia to Xinjiang, China.
A study at the eastern extreme of its range found that it was one of 47 genera and 161 wild species of Gramineae in the area of the Karakorum and Kunlun Mountains, China. This indicated a north temperate floristic nature with S. ravennae as a characteristic species (Wu, 2005).
S. ravennae has been widely introduced into the USA and also into Japan.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|-Jammu and Kashmir||Present||Native|
|Australia||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-South Australia||Present||Introduced||Original citation: Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria (2015)|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
S. ravennae has been widely introduced, intentionally, for its perceived value as an ornamental species, for use in sugarcane breeding programmes and more recently as a potential biomass crop species. It is widely recorded in the USA and is expected to be present elsewhere, though no other confirmed records have been located, beside one for Japan (Shimura et al., 1973).
It is known that S. ravennae was introduced into the USA as early as 1934, following expeditions dispatched to Turkey, Central Asia and China. These expeditions aimed to obtain species of plant likely to be of value in arid areas and S. ravennae was one of several species noted as performing especially well in Arizona at that time (Enlow, 1936). However, unconfirmed reports in Cal-IPC (2015) note that it was part of the horticultural trade since at least 1921. It was also planted in Canada in 1998 (Davidson and Gobin, 1998), but it is likely that earlier introductions were made. It was reported as naturalizing and showing signs of invasive behaviour in central California in the early 2000s (Tu and Randall, 2003; DiTomaso, 2005). S. ravennae is reported to occur in marshes, riparian and disturbed areas in California as well as in several other states in the USA, in the Sonoran desert and the Sacramento Valley, where it is noted to be spreading rapidly along Cache Creek (Cal-IPC, 2015).
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
As a wild relative of sugarcane, a crop of huge global economic importance, it is highly likely that S. ravennae may be more widely introduced intentionally, for breeding purposes, as an ornamental crop, or as a potential biofuel species. Cal-IPC (2015) reports of it being 'a plant to watch' and suggest that it is put on alert lists in California and elsewhere.
HabitatTop of page
S. ravennae is generally a plant of wet places such as river and lake islands, sand and shingle bars, riverbanks and their margins, seasonally flooded areas, hollows and other areas where water is abundant. In south-eastern Europe, S. ravennae is noted as dominant in with marshy vegetation and in sandy hollows flooded in the wet season (Adamovic, 1968). In northern India and Nepal, S. ravennae is a part of the flora of tall native grasslands that have been much reduced in area with conversion to agriculture and other land uses. In areas which are highly disturbed and overgrazed, the invasive species Imperata cylindrica tends to dominate, whereas S. ravennae prefers seasonally inundated sites and is more prevalent than other Saccharum species and Phragmites karka (Bairagee et al., 2005).
The closely related S. spontaneum, an agricultural weed, is also common along river banks, roadsides, railroads, on waste ground and along the banks of lakes and ponds (Holm et al., 1997). It is usually most aggressive on heavy soils, but also grows well on sandy soils (Sen, 1981; Balyan et al., 1997).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Urban / peri-urban areas||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Wetlands||Present, no further details||Natural|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Wetlands||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Within the closely related genera of Erianthus and Saccharum where species have moved from one to the other (S. ravennae included), the chromosome counts of a large number of taxa have been tested. The availability of this information is often as a result of plant breeding work within the genus. Of all species tested, S. ravennae has consistently had the lowest count of all, with 2n = 20 along with E. elephantinus which is now regarded as a synonym of S. ravennae (Babu and Srinivasan, 1960; Besse et al., 1997). This further indicates the use of ploidy as a means of species separation. The chromosome number is reported as 2n = 20, 60 in the Flora of China Editorial Committee (2015), but the latter number would require confirmation.
As an example of early work in plant breeding, Janaki-Ammal (1941) crossed S. ravennae (2n = 20) with a Javanese variety of S. spontaneum (2n = 112). The F1 had more resemblance to S. spontaneum with 66 chromosomes (56 + 10) in root tips.
Chromosome numbers determined by Babu and Srinivasan (1960) for 47 collections of Erianthus included chromosome numbers ranging from 2n = 20 in E. fulvus [Eulalia aurea], E. elephantinus [Saccharum ravennae] and E. ravennae [Saccharum ravennae] to 2n = 100 in E. maximus [Saccharum maximum].
The flowering and floral biology of S. ravennae has been well studied (e.g. Savchenko, 1969; Amalraj et al., 2005), and is similar in large respects with that for other Saccharum species. S. ravennae can reproduce both vegetatively, from the swollen shoot-bases (a dense network of rhizome), or by wind dispersed seeds. The seeds may benefit from light for germination (Salinas et al., 1997).
Physiology and Phenology
S. ravennae is a C4 plant, somewhat frost sensitive, dying back and leaving large amounts of dry matter, before regrowing vigorously. Although the species is observed to grow in the wild, primarily in wet areas, on the basis of anatomical characters, Sukhova and Kazakov (1972) considered both S. ravennae and S. spontaneum as xerophytes and not as hygrophytes. Sharma and Tiagi (1979) however recognised three distinct biotypes of S. spontaneum: a xerophilous type on dry sandy soils; a hygrophilous type in wetlands and swamps; and an intermediate type on loamy soils.
S. ravennae has recently drawn great attention as an energy crop because of its excellent tolerance against various environmental stresses. However, a recent investigation on the effect of drought stress on biomass productivity of newly established S. ravennae found that the shoot dry weight was significantly decreased under drought compared to irrigated conditions (Hattori et al., 2010). Decreases in soil water content were correlated with midday decreases in stomatal conductance suggesting that it limits CO2 diffusion into leaf tissues under drought conditions. As a result a decrease in photosynthesis followed by suppression in stem number occurred, suggesting that S. ravennae was susceptible to drought, at least in the first establishment year (Hattori et al., 2010)
Molotkovskii and Rakhmanina (1995) also provide data on the water relations of S. ravennae in the arid subtropical zone of southern Tajikistan. This included information on the transpiration rate, leaf water content, water retention, osmotic pressure, midday and residual water deficits and the rate of water use. They found that high groundwater levels and efficient water use enabled this species to maintain its water economy, even at the highest summer temperatures. S. ravennae was found to produce stable, highly productive swards in the floodplain ecosystems of the Central Asian arid zone (Molotkovskii and Rakhmanina, 1995).
In Pakistan, S. ravennae flowers from August to December, but this is likely to be significantly altered depending on the location within the native range, both in terms of longitude (from Spain to China) and altitude (from sea level to the slopes up to the Himalayan plateau).
S. ravennae is a warm-temperate species, native to a broad area including the entire Mediterranean region, the Middle East and Central Asia at low and middle altitudes. It appears to prefer wet summers but will also grow in dry areas in riparian zones where water is not limited for survival and growth. It is noted as relatively cold tolerant as compared to other, similar, ornamental species. S. ravennae can survive a few degrees of frost and even more if more extreme cold does not continue for more than a short period, dying back and regrowing later. In China, S. ravennae is found predominantly in sandy soils, at altitudes of 1200–3000 m, however, it is also found growing in heavier clay and waterlogged soils (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015).
ClimateTop of page
|BS - Steppe climate||Preferred||> 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation|
|BW - Desert climate||Preferred||< 430mm annual precipitation|
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
|Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter||Preferred||Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)|
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
S. ravennae could be considered as susceptible to the same, or similar, pests and diseases as are known to affect cultivated sugarcane. Four species of rust fungi have been described on S. ravennae, S. spontaneum and S. bengalense in Pakistan. These include Puccinia coronata var. avenae [P. coronata], and P. kuehnii and as new records for Pakistan, P. melanocephala and P. miscanthi (Iqbal et al., 2008). Other pathogens recorded on S. ravennae include Ustilago sacchari [Sporisorium sacchari] and Rhizoctonia zeae [Waitea circinata] in Iran (Aghajani et al., 2008), Uredo ravennae in Turkey (Petrak, 1953) and Switchgrass mosaic virus (Agindotan et al., 2013).
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
S. ravennae reproduces by seed and plants are observed as copious producers. The small seeds are readily dispersed by wind, aided by the callus hairs and they probably float on water, especially when tangled together. There is relatively little available information on S. ravennae, much more is available regarding the closely related invasive, S. spontaneum. S. spontaneum is a perennial species capable of vegetative propagation from rhizomes and stem fragments, with each node having a root band containing one or two rows of root primordia (Artschwager, 1942).
S. ravennae has been intentionally introduced and has spread in the USA principally as an ornamental species and only more recently as a species for potential biofuel productions, where it has been promoted by several government agencies.
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Breeding and propagation||Yes||Yes|
|Escape from confinement or garden escape||Yes|
|Flooding and other natural disasters||Yes|
|Garden waste disposal||Yes|
|Habitat restoration and improvement||Yes|
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Environment (generally)||Positive and negative|
Economic ImpactTop of page
S. ravennae has positive economic impacts as an ornamental species, in sugarcane breeding programmes, as a potential biofuel species and for erosion control.
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Biodiversity
S. ravennae has been recently observed in parts of the USA as invasive in riparian zones and other wet areas where it can form impenetrable monocultures. It is present at the Grand Canyon and valleys in other ecologically sensitive areas in the USA where it could have a significant impact. The full impact of S. ravennae has not been investigated.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Highly mobile locally
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Reproduces asexually
- Has high genetic variability
- Monoculture formation
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Rapid growth
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
UsesTop of page
In its native range, S. ravennae is of little value as a fodder plant though it has been investigated as a fodder crop in Japan (Shimura et al., 1973). In China leaves are used for forage when young. The strong culms can be used for the walls of huts and the stout clumps are useful in erosion control (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015). S. ravennae has characteristics which make it potentially useful in the restoration, fixing and maintenance of riverbanks along watercourses in the Mediterranean region (Salinas et al., 1997).
S. ravennae is also a notable ornamental species, grown for its large and impressive floral plumes than can appear at the top of 3 m tall clumps. It has been tested for biomass production, amongst a range of other large grass species and although S. ravennae had the lowest yield of those tested it still produced an average of 10 tonnes per hectare (Palmer et al., 2014). An efficient method of plant regeneration from seed derived callus has also been assessed for the propagation of this species as both an ornamental and as an important biomass crop (Shimomae et al., 2013).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Gene source
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
S. ravennae is a polymorphic species showing much variability, notably in the disposition of hairs on the glumes and sometimes the spikelets are slightly dimorphic, with the sessile spikelet almost glabrous and the pedicelled one strongly pilose. In China, S. ravennae has a more profusely branched panicle with shorter racemes than others species (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015). Also, Saccharum species in China other than S. ravennae have awns either longer (over 8 mm) or none. In India, it is distinguished from other Saccharum spp. by the presence of awns and the compound, much branched, structure of the inflorescence (Shukla, 1996) S. spontaneum also lacks awns.
Gladkova (1974) identified clear differences between S. ravennae (as Erianthus ravennae) and S. villosum (as E. purpurascens), including those in the vegetative stage and differences in flowering times. He also noted that when grown in close vicinity the two species may hybridize (Gladkova, 1974).
In the USA, S. ravennae could be mistaken with a number of other invasive species though it can be readily separated with further investigation. S. ravennae shows some similarities with Arundo donax, Cortaderia jubata, C. selloana and Phragmites australis. However, S. ravennae has pubescent leaf bases and white veined abaxial leaf surfaces, both absent in Cortaderia species, with taller flowers emerging above the rest of the plant. The Cortaderia species also tend to have sharped and more serrated leaf margins and are less cold tolerant than S. ravennae.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
Manual removal of S. ravennae has proved effective for treating small clumps before they reach reproductive size with roots removed and piled up to dry, away from moist ground. Mowing, grazing and burning are considered to be inadequate as plants can resprout after damage (Cal-IPC, 2015).
Techniques used to control related Saccharum species are believed to be effective for controlling S. ravennae. With the closely related S. spontaneum, deep ploughing has proven effective in India (Mendoza, 1979). A specialized plough known as the 'Bakhkhar plough' capable of cultivation to a depth of 26 cm is used to control S. spontaneum, turning the soil in May and June when temperatures are very high (Singh et al., 1970; Mendoza, 1979). Regardless of timing, annual deep cultivation will help reduce the vigour and spread by systematically interrupting the development of the underground reproductive system.
A number of mulching techniques have also proved successful for the control of S. spontaneum. These include covering the soil surface with black or white polyethylene sheeting after removing above ground parts, either by herbicide or cultivation. After a period of 3-4 months regeneration of plants is prevented (Balyan et al., 1993).
Amongst several species tested, S. ravennae proved sensitive to fenoxaprop, fluazifop-P, quizalofop and sethoxydim, with all herbicide treatments reducing growth (Catanzaro et al., 1993). A number of herbicides have also been successful in controlling the closely related S. spontaneum in different cropping systems, including bromacil or dalapon (Mendoza, 1979). Glyphosate has also proved effective in Indonesia and the Philippines and is currently being investigated for use in California (Cal-IPC, 2015).
Due to the economic importance of the closely related sugarcane, S. officinarum, it is unlikely that biological control of this species will be attempted.
Integrated weed management has been found to be successful for perennial weeds such as S. spontaneum where tillage and management practices allow competition in favour of crops. In infested areas, competitive crops such as pearl millet or sorghum should be grown instead of cotton or soybean.
Gaps in Knowledge/Research NeedsTop of page
More research is needed on the impact of S. ravennae in California, USA.
ReferencesTop of page
Balyan RS; Malik RK; Singh SM; Pahwa SK, 1993. Effect of mulching and volume of glyphosate spray on the control of tigergrass (Saccharum spontaneum L.). Integrated weed management for sustainable agriculture. Proceedings of an Indian Society of Weed Science International Symposium. Haryana, India; Indian Society of Weed Science, Vol. III:240-243.
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ContributorsTop of page
20/03/2015 Original text by:
Nick Pasiecznik, Agroforestry Enterprises, France
Distribution MapsTop of page
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