Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Pennisetum setaceum
(fountain grass)

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Datasheet

Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Pennisetum setaceum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • fountain grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Pennisetum setaceum, commonly known as fountain grass, is a popular ornamental plant and has been planted widely in areas with warm, arid climates. It has spread by seed into natural areas from cultivated plant...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. USA.
TitleInfestation
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. USA.
Copyright©John M. Randall/The Nature Conservancy/Bugwood.org - CC BY 3.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. USA.
InfestationPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. USA.©John M. Randall/The Nature Conservancy/Bugwood.org - CC BY 3.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. Kahoolawe, Lua Makika, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.
TitleInfestation
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. Kahoolawe, Lua Makika, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. Kahoolawe, Lua Makika, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.
InfestationPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation. Kahoolawe, Lua Makika, Hawaii, USA. May 2005. ©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation, in a wash. USA.
TitleInfestation
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation, in a wash. USA.
Copyright©John M. Randall/The Nature Conservancy/Bugwood.org - CC BY 3.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation, in a wash. USA.
InfestationPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); infestation, in a wash. USA.©John M. Randall/The Nature Conservancy/Bugwood.org - CC BY 3.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); flowering spikes. Puu Kole, Hawaii, USA. July 2004.
TitleFlowering spikes
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); flowering spikes. Puu Kole, Hawaii, USA. July 2004.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); flowering spikes. Puu Kole, Hawaii, USA. July 2004.
Flowering spikesPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); flowering spikes. Puu Kole, Hawaii, USA. July 2004.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); inflorescences, habit. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. September 2009.
TitleInflorescences
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); inflorescences, habit. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. September 2009.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); inflorescences, habit. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. September 2009.
InflorescencesPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); inflorescences, habit. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. September 2009.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); spikelet. Disseminule with some bristles removed to reveal spikelet cluster. Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
TitleSpikelet
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); spikelet. Disseminule with some bristles removed to reveal spikelet cluster. Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
Copyright©D. Walters and C. Southwick/Table Grape Weed Disseminule ID/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); spikelet. Disseminule with some bristles removed to reveal spikelet cluster. Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
SpikeletPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); spikelet. Disseminule with some bristles removed to reveal spikelet cluster. Fort Collins, Colorado, USA©D. Walters and C. Southwick/Table Grape Weed Disseminule ID/USDA APHIS ITP/Bugwood.org - CC BY-NC 3.0 US
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); close-up of seedhead. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. July 2016.
TitleSeedhead
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); close-up of seedhead. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. July 2016.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); close-up of seedhead. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. July 2016.
SeedheadPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); close-up of seedhead. Green Cay Nature Center, Boynton Beach, Florida, USA. July 2016.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); active management, by hand pulling. Kahoolawe, Lua Kealialalo, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.
TitleActive management
CaptionPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); active management, by hand pulling. Kahoolawe, Lua Kealialalo, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Pennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); active management, by hand pulling. Kahoolawe, Lua Kealialalo, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.
Active managementPennisetum setaceum (fountain grass); active management, by hand pulling. Kahoolawe, Lua Kealialalo, Hawaii, USA. May 2005.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Pennisetum setaceum (Forsskal) Chiovenda, 1923

Preferred Common Name

  • fountain grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Cenchrus setaceus (Forssk.) Marrone
  • Pennisetum cupreum Hitchc
  • Pennisetum erythraeum Chiovenda
  • Pennisetum macrostachyum Fresenius
  • Pennisetum orientale var. altissimum
  • Pennisetum parisii Trab
  • Pennisetum phalariodes Schultes
  • Pennisetum ruppelii Steud
  • Pennisetum scoparium Chiovenda
  • Pennisetum spectabile Figari & De Notaris
  • Pennisetum spectabile Figari & De Notaris
  • Pennisetum tiberiadis Boiss

International Common Names

  • English: african fountain grass; crimson fountain grass; fountain grass; tender fountain grass
  • Spanish: plumacho; rabo de gato; yerba de fuente

Local Common Names

  • Germany: afrikanisches Lampenputzergras; einjähriges Lampenputzergras
  • South Africa: Pronkgras
  • Sweden: fjäderborstgräs

Summary of Invasiveness

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Pennisetum setaceum, commonly known as fountain grass, is a popular ornamental plant and has been planted widely in areas with warm, arid climates. It has spread by seed into natural areas from cultivated plants. Fountain grass has become invasive in Hawaii and the southern continental United States, Australia, the Canary Islands, southern Europe, and southern Africa. It establishes monocultures in many different habitats, but is particularly problematic in dry grasslands and early successional habitats. It increases fire frequency and the ability of fires to spread within a landscape and threatens rare plant species (Benton, 2009).

Fountain grass is listed as a category one invasive species in South Africa (PlantZAfrica, 2012). It is regulated as a noxious weed in the USA in Hawaii (USDA-NRCS, 2012) and Nevada (Nevada Department of Agriculture, 2012; Weed Center, 2012) and is on the noxious weed watch list in New Mexico (Weed Center, 2012). It is also listed as a noxious weed in New Zealand (HEAR, 2012) and in Australia in New South Wales and Queensland (Weeds Australia Database, 2012).

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Pennisetum
  •                                 Species: Pennisetum setaceum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The synonym Cenchrus setaceus (Forssk.) Morrone is based on a phylogenetic study of morphological and DNA traits that showed that Pennisetum and Cenchrus species belong in the same genus (Chemisquy et al. 2010). An earlier name for Pennisetum setaceum was Phalaris setacea Forssk (ITIS, 2012). 

Pennisetum setaceum var. rubrum is now considered a new species, Cenchrus advena or Pennisetum advena (Chemisquy et al., 2010).

In the APG III (Angiosperm Phylogeny Group) system, the Poaceae are in the Commelinids clade, Order Poales.

Description

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This perennial clump-forming grass bears pretty pink to purple seed heads, making it a popular ornamental grass. However, inflorescences can develop from light green (immature) to tan or light buff in colour (mature) with little or no traces of pink. These different inflorescences are seen especially under sunny or dry conditions (C Daehler, University of Hawaii, USA, personal communication, 2013). The slender (0.2-0.4 cm wide), arching leaves grow to 0.6 m. The flowers and seeds grow as dense, cylindrical, bristly panicles 8-35 cm long on stalks that can reach 1.2 m in height. Leaf sheaths are usually smooth but often have edges lined with white hairs (Encycloweedia, 2012). The plant's name, fountain grass, comes from the appearance of the leaves and seed heads forming a spray from the base of the plant.

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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P. setaceum is widely distributed in warm, arid climates. It is widespread on the Hawaiian islands (found on Kauai, Lanai, Oahu, Kahoolawe, East Maui, Hawaii islands). In the continental United States it grows in Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado as well as in Louisiana, Florida, and Tennessee (Wunderlin and Hansen, 2008; University of Tennessee, 2012; Jepson Flora Project, 2012; GBIF, 2012). The species is widespread in southern and central California and in Arizona. It grows throughout southern California and in the Sacramento Valley, central coast, and San Francisco Bay area (Jepson Flora Project, 2012). In Arizona it occurs in most of the southern counties. It is described as naturalized and escaped from cultivation in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties in Florida. It grows in three counties in Tennessee (University of Tennessee, 2012).

Australia also lists it in several regions. It is most widespread in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, but it also occurs in Victoria, South Australia, and in arid areas of the Northern Territories. New Zealand collections of fountain grass show that it occurs in several important ecological regions in the country (GBIF, 2012).

Fountain grass was introduced to southern Africa from North Africa and is considered invasive in Namibia and South Africa (Joubert and Cunningham, 2002).

In Europe, it has naturalized in southern countries and is recorded as an invasive species in Sicily (Pasta et al., 2010).

Distribution Table

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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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

IsraelPresentNativeValdes and Scholz, 2009
JordanPresentNativeValdes and Scholz, 2009
LebanonPresentNativeValdes and Scholz, 2009
OmanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
PhilippinesWidespreadIntroducedMarler and Moral, 2011Mt. Pinatubo, Luzon
QatarPresentNativeNorton et al., 2009Rare, west coast
Saudi ArabiaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012Bani Razam; 45 km from Abha
SyriaPresentNativeValdes and Scholz, 2009
YemenPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012

Africa

AlgeriaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012; EPPO, 2014El Kantara
EgyptPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
EritreaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
EthiopiaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012
KenyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
LibyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
MoroccoPresentNativeValdes and Scholz, 2009; EPPO, 2014
NamibiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Joubert and Cunningham, 2002Highland savannah and mountain savannah
SomaliaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012Al Miskat Mountains
South AfricaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2012
Spain
-Canary IslandsWidespreadIntroducedAndreu and Vilà, 2007; Valdes and Scholz, 2009; GBIF, 2012; EPPO, 2014Tenerife, La Palma, Hierro, Gomero, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura with Lobos, Lanzarote with Graciosa
SudanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
SwazilandPresentIntroducedEPPO, 2009
TanzaniaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012Ngorongoro Conservation Area
TunisiaPresentNativeValdes and Scholz, 2009; EPPO, 2014
ZambiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
ZimbabwePresentNativeHill, 1972

North America

BermudaPresentIntroduced Not invasive GBIF, 2012Hamilton, waste places in town
MexicoPresentIntroducedTellman, 2002; GBIF, 2012Baja California, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Sonora
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ArizonaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Tellman, 2002; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2012; GBIF, 2012Widespread Maricopa, Pima counties, along Colorado River in Mohave and LaPaz counties. Present in several other counties. Escaping cultivation in Sonora and Baja
-CaliforniaWidespreadIntroducedLovich, 2000; GBIF, 2012; Jepson Flora Project, 2012Sacramento Valley, San Francisco Bay, south to Baja along coast, San Joaquin Valley
-ColoradoPresentIntroduced Invasive GBIF, 2012; USDA-NRCS, 2012
-FloridaPresentIntroducedWunderlin and Hansen, 2008Southeastern counties
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroducedWagner et al., 2005; GBIF, 2012Honolulu, Hawaii. Presumed eradicated from Maui and Kauai
-LouisianaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012Rio Grande Bosque, Sandoval
-OregonPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012
-TennesseePresentIntroducedUniversity of Tennessee Herbarium, 2012

Central America and Caribbean

GuadeloupeWidespreadIntroduced Invasive EPPO, 2009
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedMas and Garcia-Molinari, 2006

South America

VenezuelaPresentIntroduced Not invasive GBIF, 2012Not certain if planted or naturalized in Maracay, Caracas and Muaco

Europe

FrancePresentIntroducedPasta et al., 2010; EPPO, 2014
ItalyPresentEPPO, 2014
-SardiniaPresentIntroducedValdes and Scholz, 2009; Pasta et al., 2010; EPPO, 2014
-SicilyPresentIntroduced Invasive Valdes and Scholz, 2009; Pasta et al., 2010
MaltaPresentEPPO, 2014
PortugalPresentIntroduced Not invasive Valdes and Scholz, 2009
SpainPresentIntroducedDana et al., 2005; Antonio and Arnelas, 2006; EPPO, 2009; GBIF, 2012; EPPO, 2014Andalucia, Granada, Almeria, Malaga, Marbella, Murcia, Valencia, Tenerife
-Balearic IslandsPresentIntroducedPasta et al., 2010; EPPO, 2014

Oceania

AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedGroves et al., 2005Arid areas
-New South WalesWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Csurhes and Edwards, 1998; Florabase, 2012; GBIF, 2012
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedFlorabase, 2012; GBIF, 2012Brisbane, Townsville, Port Curtis
-South AustraliaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012Eyre Peninsula
-VictoriaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedFlorabase, 2012; GBIF, 2012Geraldton, Kimberleys, Red Hill, Wittecara Creek Reserve, John Forest National Park, Kwinana, Gosnells
FijiPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Not invasive PIER, 2012Cultivated on Hiva Oa, Raiatea, Tahiti, Rurutu
GuamPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
New CaledoniaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2012
New ZealandPresentIntroducedEdgar and Connor, 2000; GBIF, 2012Christchurch, Wanganui, Hamilton, North Island, Auckland, Western Northland Ecological Region, Waikato Ecological Region, Bay of Islands
PalauPresentIntroduced Not invasive PIER, 2012Cultivated

History of Introduction and Spread

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Fountain grass comes from North Africa and it began to be sold as an ornamental plant in the late 1800s. Seeds were available in the United States as early as 1883. Plants were introduced to Hawaii in the early twentieth century as ornamental plants with the earliest collection made in 1914 (Tunison, 1992; Halvorson and Guertin, 2003). The earliest herbarium collection made in California dates to 1932 (Consortium of California Herbaria Project, 2012). It was grown in Tucson, Arizona, as an ornamental plant as early as 1940. The New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (2012) lists it as having been introduced to New Zealand in 1982. The earliest herbarium specimens from Australia were collected in Brisbane in 1930 with specimens from New South Wales and Western Australia collected before 1940 (GBIF, 2012). In Sicily, it was recorded as naturalized in the 1960s and has shown rapid spread since that time (Pasta et al., 2010).

Introductions

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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia Africa Pre 1930 Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes No Randall (2001); Randall (2002)
Namibia Africa Pre 1985 Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes No Joubert and Cunningham (2002)
New Zealand Africa 1982 Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes No New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (2012); New Zealand Plant Conservation Network (NZPCN) (2012)
USA Africa 1880s-1900s Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes No Tunison (1992)

Risk of Introduction

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The main pathway for introduction of P. setaceum is through the horticultural trade. Plants and seeds are available at nurseries and by mail order. Seeds are easily dispersed by wind, water, animals and vehicles. Spread is often along roads and rivers (Rahlao et al., 2010a). It is most widespread in Hawaii and arid parts of Australia.

Fountain grass is listed as a category one invasive species in South Africa (PlantZAfrica, 2012) and is regulated as a noxious weed in the USA (Weed Center, 2012). It is also listed as a noxious weed in New Zealand (HEAR, 2012; EPPO, 2012) and in Australia in New South Wales and Queensland (Weeds Australia Database, 2012).

Habitat

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P. setaceum generally favours arid to semi-arid environments but occurs in mesic sites as well. It is outcompeted by other plants in wetter sites (EPPO, 2012). It often grows in disturbed areas such as along roadsides and railroad embankments and in mined areas (FloraBase, 2012). In natural areas in the southwestern USA and northern Mexico it has been found growing in grasslands, desert, desert shrublands, canyons, and rocky hillsides, coastal dunes, coastal sage scrub, and canyons. In Hawaii it grows on lava flows and rangeland at a wide range of elevations from sea level to 2900 m. In South Africa it is found in coastal vegetation, woodlands and grasslands (Rahlao et al. 2009; FloraBase, 2012).

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Littoral
Coastal areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunes Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-managed
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Principal habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
Arid regions Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Deserts Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Principal habitat Natural
Rocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

Poulin et al. (2005) found that there is no genetic variation among populations in the USA, as would be expected if the plants were completely apomictic (they form seeds asexually). P. setaceum is a triploid whereas P. advena is a hexaploid that may be pollen-sterile (Halvorson and Guertin 2003). Plants have high phenotypic plasticity allowing them to establish in a wide range of habitats (Le Roux et al., 2007).

Reproductive Biology

Plants begin to produce seeds within one year of seed germination (EPPO, 2012). P. setaceum mainly reproduces by self-pollination but occasionally produces seeds through cross-pollination; Halvorson and Guertin (2003) cite two studies that found some sexual reproduction in P. setaceum, however most seeds are produced through apomixis. Wind and gravity move pollen within the plant and between plants (Halvorson and Guertin 2003). Seed production is sometimes reported as very low (1.7-5.7% per plant or an average of 62 viable seeds per plant) (Goergen and Daehler, 2001), but others report that 80% of seeds produced are viable (Nonner, 2005; WeedBusters, 2012) and Poulin et al. (2007) counted an average of 100 seeds per plant in a greenhouse study. Milton et al. (2008) reported a case of pseudo-vivipary from flooded plants in South Africa where seeds produced young plants before dispersing. Seeds can remain viable for six years in soil (Halvorson and Guertin, 2003). They do not need light to germinate and can germinate when covered lightly with soil (Nonner, 2005).

Physiology and Phenology

P. setaceum is a C4 perennial bunchgrass that can live up to 20 years (Encycloweedia, 2012). Plants begin to produce seeds within one year (EPPO, 2012). Seeds germinate late spring to early summer. Seedlings require some moisture to establish (Rahlao et al., 2010b). Plants can flower over a long time period from spring to late fall before they go dormant in winter in temperate environments.

P. setaceum allocates much of its biomass to roots and shoots allowing it to be a good colonizer. It has high photosynthetic rates that also enable it to compete effectively. It also shows phenotypic plasticity in growth allocation and photosynthetic rates potentially allowing it to colonize a wider range of habitats (Williams et al., 1995; Le Roux et al., 2007; Poulin et al., 2007).

Associations

In Hawaii, more than 75% of the roots of P. setaceum were associated with vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizae (Koske et al., 1992). Mycorrhizae help plants obtain nutrients.

Environmental Requirements

P. setaceum prefers regions with mild winters and summers with some moisture. Fountain grass prefers open sunny areas with well-drained soils, but will grow in soil types from clay to sand and can persist in light shade. It grows best in regions with median rainfall of less than 127 mm/year (EPPO, 2012) but can be found in areas with more than 600 mm rainfall/year (Joubert and Cunningham, 2002). This species cannot tolerate freezing temperatures.

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BW - Desert climate Preferred < 430mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Ds - Continental climate with dry summer Preferred Continental climate with dry summer (Warm average temp. > 10°C, coldest month < 0°C, dry summers)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
44 -43

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) -8

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall127600mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

Top of page Bimodal
Summer
Winter

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Natural enemies have not been studied for this species because several related species are economically important (Markin et al., 1992). Few insect or fungi species were found to attack fountain grass in Hawaii (Goergen and Daehler, 2001).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Seeds are dispersed by wind and water (Rahlao et al., 2010a). In Australia, seeds were found to have dispersed a quarter of a mile along a stream (Department of Primary Industries, Victoria 2012).

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Seeds also attach to animal fur. Livestock are thought to be a vector for the movement of seeds (Halvorson and Guertin 2003).

 Accidental Introduction

Wind created by the movement of vehicles disperses seeds along roadways. Seeds are also carried on vehicles. Introduction to the Canary Islands is thought to have occurred when machinery from the western Sahara was brought in to construct a new airport, but could also have come from plantings at the airport (Gobierno de Canarias, 1999).

Intentional Introduction

This ornamental plant is widely sold in the nursery industry. The popular variety 'Rubrum' which is now listed sometimes as a separate species, Pennisetum advena, has been used by landscape architects and home owners but tends to take on a brownish tinge that many landscapers find unattractive. P. setaceum is also available in the seed trade from at least two companies online and on E-Bay (B&T World Seeds in France and Hazzard's Seed Store, 2012). It is planted as an annual in colder regions.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionAccidental dispersal on animal fur Yes Yes Halvorson and Guertin, 2003
Breeding and propagationOrnamental plant sales Yes Yes
DisturbanceRoadsides, railways, mining Yes Florabase, 2012
Escape from confinement or garden escapeSeed dispersal from ornamental plantings Yes Florabase, 2012
Flooding and other natural disastersSeed dispersal Yes Rahlao et al., 2009
Garden waste disposalDisposal of seed heads from previous year Yes Florabase, 2012
Habitat restoration and improvementPlants used for soil stabilization Yes Florabase, 2012
HitchhikerSeeds stick to clothing, fur Yes Yes Halvorson and Guertin, 2003
HorticultureOrnamental plants Yes Yes Florabase, 2012
Interconnected waterwaysSeed dispersal Yes Florabase, 2012
Internet salesSeeds and plants available for purchase online Yes
Landscape improvementNew plantings and seeds carried on equipment Yes Yes Joubert and Cunningham, 2002
Nursery tradeOrnamental plants Yes Yes Florabase, 2012
Ornamental purposesPlanted as ornamental Yes Yes Florabase, 2012
Seed tradeListed by at least two online seed sellers and on E-Bay Yes Hazzard's Greenhouse, 2012; World Seeds, 2012

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
LivestockSeeds Yes Halvorson and Guertin, 2003
Machinery and equipmentOne possible incidence recorded of movement of seeds Yes Joubert and Cunningham, 2002
MailSeeds can be ordered by mail Yes Hazzard's Greenhouse, 2012; World Seeds, 2012
WaterSeeds Yes Rahlao et al., 2010a
WindSeeds Yes Rahlao et al., 2010a

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Economic/livelihood Positive
Environment (generally) Negative

Economic Impact

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Unpalatable to cattle except for young shoots (Motooka et al., 2003). It is eaten by goats and camels (Department of Primary Industries, Victoria 2012).

Environmental Impact

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The dry biomass produced by the plant increases fire frequency and spread by increasing fuel loads. It reduces moisture availability to surrounding plants and can alter nutrient-cycling (FloraBase, 2012).

Impact on Habitats

As an aggressive colonizer on lava flows this plant disrupts primary succession (Tunison 1992). It is fire-adapted and increases the intensity and spread of fires damaging dry land forest and scrub habitat. It limits shallow water resources to trees in a dryland forest in Hawaii (Cordell and Sandquist, 2008). Litton et al. (2008) studied carbon fluxes in a dry forest in Hawaii and found that P. setaceum increased the flux of carbon in and out of soils but did not change the total pool of carbon. It outcompetes the native grass Heteropogon contortus in Hawaii (Daehler and Carino, 1998). In Sicily, it becomes dominant in perennial grasslands of Ampelodesmos mauritanicus and Hyparrhenia hirta (Pasta, 2010).

Impact on Biodiversity

Thick stands reduce native species diversity (FloraBase, 2012). Fountain grass competes with rare native plants in Hawaii and the federally endangered Haplostachys haplostachya endemic to Hawaii. It also affects the endangered species Argyranthemum lidii on the island of Gran Canaria, the Canary Islands, Spain (IUCN, 2012).

In Hawaii, native species were especially negatively impacted in habitats with low resources (Questad et al. 2012). The increase in fire frequency in areas invaded by fountain grass can affect ground nesting birds and other animals (EPPO, 2012).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Argyranthemum lidiiEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)Canary Islands; Spain (mainland)Competition - monopolizing resourcesIUCN, 2012
Eragrostis deflexaNational list(s) National list(s)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resourcesShaw, 1997
Festuca hawaiiensis (Hawai'i fescue)USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resourcesShaw, 1997
Haplostachys haplostachyaNational list(s) National list(s)HawaiiCompetition - monopolizing resourcesShaw, 1997

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Modification of fire regime
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses List

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Environmental

  • Amenity
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Land reclamation
  • Landscape improvement
  • Soil conservation

General

  • Botanical garden/zoo

Ornamental

  • Propagation material
  • Seed trade

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Cenchrus advena, (Wipff and Veldkamp) Morrone, synonymous with Pennisetum advena and Pennisetum setaceum var. rubrum, is most similar in appearance and most closely related. This is a new name given to the variety with 54 chromosomes and red coloration in the leaves and inflorescenses (Wippf and Veldkamp, 1999). The origin of this species is unknown. P. advena rarely produces viable seeds. Its morphology is slightly different to P.setaceum as it has wider leaf blades without a thickened mid-vein, it usually has secondary branching at aerial culm nodes, and the inflorescence has 10-17 fascicles/cm mid-inflorescence, the inner bristle of the fascicle has 4-10 ciliate or plumose bristles, and the lower floret is staminate (Q-Bank, 2012). Whereas, P. setaceum has 8-10 fascicles/cm, the inner bristle of the fascicle has 8-16 ciliate bristles, and the lower floret is usually sterile, although sometimes staminate (Q-Bank, 2012).

P. setaceum is also similar in appearance to Muhlenbergia emersleyi, native to the Sonoran desert region in the United States. M. emersleyi grows to approximately 1m and has flattened, nodding seed heads as opposed to cylindrical seed heads. Cenchrus ciliaris, buffelgrass, is a smaller grass with branched stems and shorter cylindrical seed heads (Arizona -Sonora Desert Museum, 2012). Pennisetum villosum is also similar in appearance but has shorter, white seed heads and rhizomatous growth (Jepson Flora Project, 2012).

Prevention and Control

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Prevention          

The European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization evaluated P. setaceum and listed it as a priority for action (Brunel et al., 2010). Fountain grass is also on a watch list for New Mexico and listed as a noxious weed in Nevada where it occurs infrequently still (Weed Center, 2012).

In Hawaii at the Pohakuloa Training Area, researchers studying control techniques for P. setaceum invited school groups, hosted teacher workshops, and led public tours on Earth Day to increase public awareness about fountain grass (Evans et al., 2005).

Containment/Zoning

Road and river interchanges, also associated with disturbances away from roads (Rahlao et al. 2010a). Questad et al. (2012) found that native species diversity declined more in lower resource habitats and recommend focusing on these habitats in addition to high diversity habitats.

Control

Physical/Mechanical Control

Seedlings are easily pulled out by hand and larger plants can be dug out using a pick or shovel. It is important to bag or otherwise destroy the seed heads to prevent further seed dispersal (Halvorson and Guertin, 2003). Skin irritation can occur from the leaves and seed heads so gloves should be worn (Queensland Government, 2012). 

Biological Control

No biological control agents are currently being investigated.

Chemical Control                                 

Herbicides containing fluazifop, quizalofop, sethoxydim, fenoxaprop, hexazinone, and glyphosate have been used to control fountain grass (FloraBase, 2012; Halvorson and Guertin, 2003). Some herbicides should not be used near waterways or trees. 

Ecosystem Restoration

A study in Hawaii tested several techniques for re-establishing native vegetation (Cabin et al. 2002). Both reducing the abundance of P. setaceum and planting native species helped speed ecosystem restoration. Decreasing nitrogen levels may also favor native grasses (Carino and Daehler, 2002).

References

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Links to Websites

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Contributors

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20/08/12 Original text by:

Sylvan Kaufman, Denton, Maryland, USA

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