Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Melinis repens
(natal redtop)



Melinis repens (natal redtop)


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Melinis repens, Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.
CaptionMelinis repens, Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Melinis repens, Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.
HabitMelinis repens, Pohakuokala Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Melinis repens, Waiale Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.
CaptionMelinis repens, Waiale Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Melinis repens, Waiale Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.
HabitMelinis repens, Waiale Gulch, Maui, Hawaii, USA.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Melinis repens (Willd.) Zizka (1988)

Preferred Common Name

  • natal redtop

Other Scientific Names

  • Erianthus repens (Willd.) P. Beauv
  • Melinis argentea Mez
  • Melinis brachyrhynchus Mez
  • Melinis congesta Mez
  • Melinis nitens Mez
  • Melinis paupera Mez
  • Melinis repens subsp. repens
  • Melinis rosea (Nees) Hack
  • Melinis ruficoma (Steud) Chiov
  • Melinis stolzii Mez
  • Melinis ugandensis Mez
  • Monachyron roseum (Nees) Parl
  • Monachyron tonsum (Nees) Parl
  • Panicum braunii Steud
  • Panicum roseum f. hirtum Kuntze
  • Panicum teneriffae var. roseum (Nees) F.M. Bailey
  • Panicum tonsum (Nees) Steud
  • Rhynchelytrum dregeanum Nees
  • Rhynchelytrum dregeanum var. annuum Chiov
  • Rhynchelytrum dregeanum var. intermedium Chiov
  • Rhynchelytrum gossweileri Stapf & C.E. Hubb
  • Rhynchelytrum repens (Willd.) C.E. Hubb. (1934)
  • Rhynchelytrum repens var. roseum (Nees) Chiov
  • Rhynchelytrum roseum (Nees) Stapf & C.E. Hubb. ex Bews
  • Rhynchelytrum ruficomum Hochst. ex Steud
  • Rhynchelytrum stolzii
  • Rhynchelytrum tonsum (Nees) Lanza & Mattei
  • Saccharum repens Willd. (1797)
  • Saccharum sphacelatum (Benth) Walp
  • Tricholaena dregeana (Nees) T. Durand & Schinz
  • Tricholaena fragilis A. Braun
  • Tricholaena grandiflora var. collina Rendle
  • Tricholaena repens (Willd.) C. L. Hitchc. (1936)
  • Tricholaena repens var. rosea (Nees) Alberts.
  • Tricholaena rosea Nees
  • Tricholaena rosea f. violacea Voss.
  • Tricholaena rosea var. ruderalis Vanderyst
  • Tricholaena rosea var. sphacelata (Benth.) A. Chev
  • Tricholaena ruficoma (Steud.) Hack.
  • Tricholaena sphacelata Benth
  • Tricholaena tonsa Nees
  • Tricholaena tonsa var. submutica Schweinf

International Common Names

  • English: blanketgrass; holme's grass; rose natal grass; ruby grass
  • Spanish: paja rosada; pasto natal; yerba de natal; zacate rosado
  • French: fleur-la-misère; herbe du natal; herbe pappangue; herbe rose; tit fleur; tricholène
  • Chinese: hong mao cao

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: capim favorito
  • Cuba: barba de indio; hierba de natal
  • Fiji: thongithongi
  • South Africa: eenjarige fluweelgras (for subsp. Grandiflora); natal rooipluim; Natalse Rooipluim
  • Tonga: salapona

Summary of Invasiveness

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Melinis repens, commonly known as Natal grass, is a short-lived perennial grass native to South Africa, the Arabian peninsula, India, the Seychelles island and Canary Islands. It is already widely distributed in tropical and subtropical regions due to its long use as a pasture grass and ornamental plant. Although considered a weed in many countries, it is not currently regulated. Wind disperses the seeds locally and long distance dispersal happens through the plant and seed trade. It mainly occurs in disturbed areas such as along roadsides and railway lines, but it can spread into natural areas interfering with early successional processes. It is mainly considered invasive in natural grasslands and shrublands. Holm et al. (1979) list it as a ‘serious’ weed in Australia, Brazil and Ghana, and ‘principal’ in Malaysia and Zambia. The dry biomass of the plant leads to an increase in fire frequencies and its dense growth crowds out native early successional species. Currently the main uses promoted for the plant are for reclaiming mined sites and planting as an ornamental plant.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Rhynchelytrum
  •                                 Species: Melinis repens

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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M. repens was originally named Saccharum repens in 1797. Since 1934 it has been known most widely as Rhynchelytrum repens, also as Trichloaena repens. The name Rhynchelytrum. roseum (Nees) Stapf and C. E. Hubb. ex Bews was based on the number of veins in the leaves; this character was later shown to be inaccurate (Zizka, 1990). The species is sometimes listed as having four weakly separated subspecies: M. repens subsp. grandiflora, maroccana, nigricans (Utah State University Herbarium, 2012; The Plant List, 2012).

Numerous synonyms exist for this species (The Plant List, 2012).


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An annual or short-lived perennial grass growing 20-150 cm in height. Culms (stems) root from the lower nodes, but stems are held upright. The leaf blades are flat, 5-30 cm long; 2-10 mm wide. The flowers are clustered in a fluffy oblong or ovate panicle, 5-20 cm long (Langeland et al. 2008; Clayton et al., 2012). Spikelets 2-10 mm long, 2-flowered, the lower floret male, the upper hermaphrodite, densely villous with hairs up to 8 mm long, on very fine pedicels with sparse long hairs. Panicles often have a rosy colour from the long silky hairs attached to the triangular fruits. The colour fades to silvery-white with age (Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2012).

Plant Type

Top of page Annual
Grass / sedge
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


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M. repens is widely distributed throughout the tropics and subtropics. It is variously listed as being native only to South Africa or as having a wider native distribution throughout much of Africa, the Arabian peninsula, India, the Seychelles island and Canary Islands (USDA-ARS, 2012). Florabase (2012) describes it as occurring in large stands in disturbed areas within its native range.

It is known to be invasive in Mexico, USA (California, Florida and Hawaii), Australia (New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia) Dominican Republic and French Polynesia.

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


ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-MacauLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012
IndiaPresentGBIF, 2012Southern peninsula
-AssamPresentIntroducedShukla, 1996
-KarnatakaPresentIntroducedShukla, 1996
-RajasthanPresentIntroducedShukla, 1996
-Tamil NaduPresentIntroducedShukla, 1996
-Uttar PradeshPresentIntroducedShukla, 1996
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Irian JayaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Cycloop Mts: Lake Sentani
-JavaPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced Not invasive GBIF, 2012
-MoluccasLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012
IsraelPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
MalaysiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Peninsular MalaysiaLocalised Not invasive Palaniappan, 1974Sand tailings from tin mining, western Malaysia
PhilippinesLocalisedIntroducedMarler and Moral, 2011Luzon
SingaporeLocalisedIntroduced Not invasive Louis, 1990Coastal reclamation lands
Sri LankaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012
TaiwanWidespreadIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
ThailandLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012
VietnamLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012


AngolaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012Monnyino, Quipola, Harasib, Benguella
BeninPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
BotswanaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
Burkina FasoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012
BurundiPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
CameroonPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
Cape VerdePresentGBIF, 2012Santiago Island, Fogo Island, San Nicolau island, Maio Island
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012Lake Kivu
Equatorial GuineaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2012North coastal zone
EritreaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012Asmera
EthiopiaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
GabonPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
GhanaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
GuineaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
KenyaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
MadagascarPresentGBIF, 2012
MalawiPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
MauritiusPresentGBIF, 2012
MoroccoPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
MozambiquePresentNativeGBIF, 2012
NamibiaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012Brandberg; Bethany District, Omaruru, Outjo
NigeriaPresentDatamining 2011 - Invasive Species Databases
RéunionPresent, few occurrencesCadet, 1970Agricultural weed
South AfricaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
-Canary IslandsWidespreadNativeGBIF, 2012Tenerife
SudanPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
TanzaniaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012Arusha, Morogoro
TogoPresent only in captivity/cultivationNativeGBIF, 2012
UgandaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
ZambiaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
ZimbabwePresentNativeGBIF, 2012

North America

MexicoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Stevens and Fehmi, 2009; GBIF, 2012Aguas Calientes, Campeche, Chiapas, Chihuahua, Colima, Distrito Federal, Durango, Guanajuato, Hidalgo, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacan, Morelos, Nayarit, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Pueblo, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaluipas, Veracruz,Yucatan, Zacatecas, Nombre de Dios
USAPresent Invasive
-ArizonaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Cochise, Pima, Santa Cruz counties
-CaliforniaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive GBIF, 2012San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Riverside counties
-FloridaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Wunderlin and Hansen, 2008; GBIF, 2012Volusia, Alachua, Seminole, Indian River, Hillsborough, Broward, Brevard, Charlotte, Citrus, Lake, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Monroe, Escambia, Miami-Dade, Sarasota, Polk, Franklin, Gadsden, Harden, Henry, Gilchrist, Highlands, Charlotte, Martin, Dade, Palm Beach, Lafayette, Lake, Lee, Leon, Levy, Madison, Oscaloosa, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Sumter, Manatee, Walton, Palm Beach
-GeorgiaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Echols, Lowndes
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive GBIF, 2012Hawaii, Maui, Kuai, Honolulu, Oahu
-LouisianaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012LaForche, Terrebone Parish
-New MexicoLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Luna County
-TexasWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Brazoria, Brazos, Brooks, Burnet, Frio, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Kleberg, Nueces, Starr, Willacy

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Eleuthera, Cat Island, Abaco Island, Mayaguana
BelizeLocalisedIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012
Costa RicaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012San Ramón, Poás, Grecia, Nandayure, Bagaces, Santo Domingo, Heredia, Limon, Coto Brus, Buenos Aires, Osa, Acosta, Asseri, Puntarenas, Turrubares, Desamparados, Santa Ana, Mora, San José, Escazú
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012
Dominican RepublicWidespreadIntroduced Invasive GBIF, 2012
El SalvadorWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012
GuadeloupePresentGBIF, 2012
GuatemalaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012
HaitiPresentGBIF, 2012
HondurasWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Morazan
Netherlands AntillesLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Saba
NicaraguaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012
PanamaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012
Puerto RicoWidespreadIntroducedMcKenzie et al., 1989; GBIF, 2012Rio Jueyes, Gurabo substation, San Juan, Caja de Muertos Island, Desecheo Island, Mona Island
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentGBIF, 2012
Trinidad and TobagoPresentGBIF, 2012Carona in sugar cane fields, Woodbrook
United States Virgin IslandsPresentGBIF, 2012St. John, Tortola, St. Thomas

South America

ArgentinaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Cordoba, Corrientes, Entre Rios, Formosa, Jujuy, Misiones, Salta, Santa Fe
BoliviaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012; USDA-ARS, 2012Chuquisaca, La Paz, Chochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija
BrazilWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-AlagoasPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-AmapaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-AmazonasPresentGBIF, 2012
-BahiaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-CearaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-GoiasPresentFilgueiras, 2010
-MaranhaoPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroducedFilgueiras, 2010; GBIF, 2012
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentFilgueiras, 2010
-Minas GeraisWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Filgueiras, 2010; GBIF, 2012
-ParaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-ParanaPresentIntroducedFilgueiras, 2010; GBIF, 2012
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedFilgueiras, 2010; GBIF, 2012
-Rio Grande do NortePresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedFilgueiras, 2010; GBIF, 2012
ColombiaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Antioquia, Cundinamarca, Magdalena, Nariño, Valle del Cauco, Vichada, Rio Negro, Medellín, Sabana Larga, Villa de Leyva, Uríbia
EcuadorWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Carchi, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Imbabura, Los Rios, Napo, Pichincha
ParaguayWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Amambay, Boquerón, Canindeyú, Central, Concepción, Cordillera, Guairá, Itapúa, Misiones, Paraguarí, San Pedro
PeruLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Amazonas, Cajamarca, La Libertad, Lambayeque
VenezuelaWidespreadIntroducedPittier et al., 1945; GBIF, 2012Aragua, Bolivar, Distrito Federal, Miranda, Nueva Esparta, Portuguesa, Sucre, Zulia


GermanyPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroduced Not invasive GBIF, 2012
SpainPresent, few occurrencesIntroduced2005-2007Verloove and Sánchez, 2008Melinis repens subsp. repens


AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Darwin and Gulf, Central South
-New South WalesWidespreadIntroduced Invasive GBIF, 2012North and Central Western Slopes, North and Central Coast, North Western Plains
-QueenslandWidespreadIntroduced Invasive GBIF, 2012Darling Downs, Cook, South Kennedy, Burnett, Port Curtis, Burke, Morton, North Kennedy, Leichhardt, Wide Bay
-South AustraliaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Mambray Creek, Kayacutta
-VictoriaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Melbourne
-Western AustraliaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Florabase, 2012; GBIF, 2012Avon Wheatbelt, Geraldton Sandplains, Jarrah Forest, Northern Kimberley, Ord Victoria Plain, Swan Coastal Plain
Cook IslandsPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedGBIF, 2012
FijiLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012Suva; base of Mt. Evans Range near Nalotawa
French PolynesiaLocalisedIntroducedFlorence et al., 2007; GBIF, 2012Marquesas, Society Islands, Tuamotu
New CaledoniaPresentGBIF, 2012Grand Terre, Loyalty Islands
Northern Mariana IslandsLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012
Papua New GuineaWidespreadIntroducedGBIF, 2012Rabaul, Central, Morobe, New Britain
TongaLocalisedIntroducedGBIF, 2012North and center of island; Eua; Vavau
US Minor Outlying IslandsLocalisedIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2012Midway Atoll-Sand Island

History of Introduction and Spread

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M. repens has been introduced around the tropics as a forage plant and ornamental. Langeland et al. (2008) describe it as being introduced as a pasture plant in 1875 to Florida and it was collected in Lake County, Florida along a roadside in 1907 and near the Agricultural Experiment Station near Miami, Florida as early as 1917 (Wunderlin and Hansen, 2008). Seeds were received at the Agriculture Experiment station from 1891 to 1894 from Natal, South Africa; Queensland, Australia; India and Hawaii. Natal grass was released as a forage plant cultivar by the Experiment Station in 1892, and by 1914 Florida had 12,141 ha of Natal grass planted (Stokes et al., 2011). Natal grass was also planted between rows of citrus trees to smother weeds such as sand spurs. In 1918, Natal grass was also growing along the gulf coast of Texas (Stokes et al., 2011).

In Hawaii, Natal grass was established by 1894, introduced as a pasture grass from Africa (Ripperton et al., 1933).

Van Devender and Reina (2005) report rapid expansion of Natal grass in northern and eastern Sonora, Mexico.

A letter to the editor in the Brisbane Courier from 1894 (MacPherson, 1894), describes Natal grass as having been introduced to Queensland, Australia in the 1870s by the Acclimatisation Society of Queensland. The author cultivated 60 varieties at an experimental farm. He gave seeds to Mr Matthews of Queensland Nursery who made bouquets of the ornamental grass to sell. In the letter he also encourages people to disperse the seeds of this grass and others while riding the railway lines.


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia South Africa 1870's Ornamental purposes (pathway cause) Yes MacPherson (1894) Introduced by Acclimatisation Society of Queensland
Spain 2005-2007 Yes Verloove and Sánchez (2008) Melinis repens subsp. repens
USA Queensland 1891 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Seeds received by USDA Experiment Station in Florida
USA 1875 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Langeland et al. (2008)
USA 1866 Horticulture (pathway cause) Yes Stokes et al. (2011)
USA South Africa 1891 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Tracy (1916) Seeds received by USDA Experiment Station in Florida
USA Queensland 1891 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Tracy (1916) Seeds received by USDA Experiment Station in Florida
USA India 1892 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Tracy (1916) Seeds received by USDA Experiment Station in Florida
USA Hawaii 1894 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Tracy (1916) Seeds received by USDA Experiment Station in Florida
USA Brazil 1884 Tracy (1916) Seeds sent to citrus grower in Alamonte Springs, FL
USA Africa 1900 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Wilkinson (2003) First recorded after 1900 in Hawaii
USA Africa 1894 Forage (pathway cause) Yes Ripperton et al. (1933) First recorded after 1900 in Hawaii

Risk of Introduction

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Although Natal grass was originally widely distributed as a pasture grass, it is no longer recommended in most countries. It is sometimes recommended as a plant for reclamation of mined areas. It is sold as an ornamental plant online and in nurseries.


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M. repens tends to occur in open, disturbed areas and is frequently found along roadsides before spreading into natural areas. It has recently been found spreading into desert grasslands in Arizona and northern Mexico (Stevens and Fehmi, 2009; Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, 2012).  In Brazil it mainly grows in the Mata Atlantica and Cerrado bioregions (Filgueiras, 2010). David and Menges (2011) studied microhabitat conditions favouring M. repens along Florida roadsides and disturbed and undisturbed scrubland and found that M. repens is unlikely to invade undisturbed scrubland. Mechanical disturbance to the soil crust and fire both favour establishment of M. repens. Gordon et al. (2005) similarly found that M. repens persists along roadsides in Florida.

The species colonizes newly reclaimed coastal lands in Singapore (Louis, 1990).

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Natural
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Rail / roadsides Principal habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Riverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Rocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rocky areas / lava flows Principal habitat Natural
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Principal habitat Natural
Deserts Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Arid regions Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Coastal areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal areas Principal habitat Natural
Coastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Coastal dunes Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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M. repens is considered a significant weed in small-scale cropping systems in northern Zambia (Afors, 1994) and in cotton fields in Brazil (Vieira et al., 1998). It is controlled in citrus crops (Wilcox and Taylor, 1992).

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Gossypium (cotton)MalvaceaeMain
Manihot esculenta (cassava)EuphorbiaceaeMain
Zea mays (maize)PoaceaeMain

Growth Stages

Top of page Pre-emergence, Seedling stage, Vegetative growing stage

Biology and Ecology

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Tracy (1916) reported that many varieties of Natal grass could be distinguished based on seed colour, leaf colour and width, stem stature, and frost tolerance. Most M. repens chromosome studies report the species as a tetraploid, 2n =36 (Spies and Plessis, 1986), however an accession from Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) had n=9 (Dujardin, 1978).

Reproductive Biology

Known as a prolific seed producer, in dense stands seeds of Natal grass can form a blanket 5 cm thick over the soil surface (Stokes et al., 2011). When grown as a hay crop in Florida, Tracy (1916) estimated seed yields at 100 pounds/acre. Díaz Romo et al. (2012) measured up to 3,906 seed/m2 in Mexico. Stokes et al. (2011) found that seeds may require some after-ripening to achieve maximum germination rates. They also found that seeds do not require light to germinate,  can germinate when buried up to a depth of 5cm, have highest germination rates at temperatures between 20 - 35° C, do not germinate at a pH lower than 4 or higher than 10, and that germination is highly dependent on soil moisture availability. Seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to a year but once adequate moisture and temperature conditions are reached nearly all seeds germinate (Stokes et al., 2011; Cooper, 2012).

Physiology and Phenology

Plants germinate once temperatures reach 20°C and adequate soil moisture is available. This usually occurs in spring.  Flowering can occur as long as growing conditions are good. Some plants grow as short-lived perennials in tropical regions with more moisture.


M. repens associates with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Stampe and Daehler (2003) determined that plant biomass differs depending on which fungal species is present.

Environmental Requirements

Plants prefer to grow in soil with neutral pH 6 - 8. Temperatures above 20°C and adequate soil moisture are required for seed germination. Plants are not shade tolerant.


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A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
B - Dry (arid and semi-arid) Tolerated < 860mm precipitation annually
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
C - Temperate/Mesothermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coldest month > 0°C and < 18°C, mean warmest month > 10°C
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Preferred Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
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)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
34 -37.8

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 0
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 4 28
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 28 46
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0 8


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration08number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall5001400mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Achurum carinatum brevipenne Herbivore Whole plant not specific
Antonina graminis Herbivore Whole plant not specific Turfgrass
Atherigona orientalis Herbivore Whole plant not specific Fruits, peppers
Tatera brantsii Herbivore Whole plant not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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M. repens is often a host plant for the southern Florida grasshopper (Achurum carinatum brevipenne) (Bland, 2012). It has been reported to be attacked by larvae of Atherigona orientalis in Paraguay (FAO, 1972) and elsewhere is fed on by Rhodes grass mealybug (Antoninis graminis) (Filho and Silva, 1988). In its native region of South Africa, populations can be reduced by gerbils (Tatera brantsii) (Korn and Korn, 1989).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natal grass seeds are wind-dispersed. Some seeds have been discovered in seed shipments. Seeds are sold in the seed trade for pasture and soil stabilization. Plants are sold as ornamentals. 

Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Wind-dispersed seeds.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Seeds are not reported to move in or on animals.

Accidental Introduction

Contaminant in seeds (USDA-ARS, 2012).

Intentional Introduction

Sold as seed (California Native Plant Link Exchange, 2012) and as an ornamental, usually as an annual (Langeland et al., 2008).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Breeding and propagationUsed as an ornamental plant Yes Langeland et al., 2008
Crop productionHay crop and pasture grass introduction to Americas, Australia Yes Langeland et al., 2008
Escape from confinement or garden escapeGarden escape Yes Langeland et al., 2008
Habitat restoration and improvementUsed for soil stabilization Yes Florabase, 2012
HorticultureFrequently sold as ornamental in USA and other countries Yes Langeland et al., 2008
Internet salesSeeds available online Yes California Native Plant Link Exchange, 2012
Landscape improvementUsed as an ornamental plant Yes Langeland et al., 2008
Nursery tradeSold as an ornamental Yes Yes Langeland et al., 2008
Seed tradeSeeds available online Yes California Native Plant Link Exchange, 2012

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
WindSeeds Yes Yes Stokes et al., 2011

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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M. repens is considered a significant weed in small-scale cropping systems in northern Zambia (Afors, 1994) and in cotton fields in Brazil (Vieira et al., 1998). It is controlled in citrus crops (Wilcox and Taylor, 1992).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

In USA this species invades undisturbed pine rocklands in Florida (Stokes et al., 2011) and invades coastal grasslands dominated by Heteropogon contortus in Hawaii. In Sonora, Mexico it is replacing native grasses in desert grasslands including unique grassland with feathertrees (Lysiloma watsonii). It is also growing in disturbed openings in tropical deciduous forests in eastern Sonora (Van Devender and Reina, 2005).

Found to be an intermediate competitor with other grasses in an Arizona experiment, M. repens was better able to tolerate resource depletion by buffel grass (Pennisetum ciliare), than the native Arizona cottontop (Digitaria californica), giving it a competitive edge over the native species (Stevens and Fehmi, 2009).

Impact on Biodiversity

Stands of M. repens can increase the number of fires; negatively affecting the growth and survival of other native flora and fauna (La Rosa et al., 2008). Six Hawaiian species growing on Lanai and/or Maui are threatened by M. repens because of its impact on fire frequency. Three of those species are on the IUCN red list as endangered or critically endangered. The other species are listed as endangered in the USA or are proposed for listing (Federal Register, 2012). One species in California (Chorizanthe orcuttiana) is also threatened by the ecosystem changes caused by M. repens (US Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007). Natal grass control is being tested on the Lake Wales Ridge in Florida because the region is home to 30 threatened and endangered state or federally listed species (FNAI, 2010).

Rare plant species on Brazilian inselbergs are threatened by the spread of M. repens (Porembski et al., 1998).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Bidens campylotheca subsp. pentamera (ko`oko`olau)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as threatened speciesHawaiiFederal Register, 2012
Canavalia pubescens (jack bean)CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiFederal Register, 2012
Chorizanthe orcuttiana (Orcutt's spineflower)National list(s)CaliforniaUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2007
Chrysodracon fernaldii (hala pepe)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiCompetitionFederal Register, 2012
Cyanea obtusa (bluntlobe cyanea)National list(s); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiFederal Register, 2012
Santalum haleakalae var. lanaiense (Lanai sandalwood)NatureServe; USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiFederal Register, 2012
Schiedea salicariaNational list(s); USA ESA listing as endangered speciesHawaiiFederal Register, 2012

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
Impact outcomes
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Modification of fire regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of endangered species
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Interaction with other invasive species
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Economic Value

Natal grass has value as an ornamental plant and for use in phytoremediation and soil stabilization on mined sites (Santos et al., 2000).

Environmental Services

M. repens was recommended for soil stabilization and cover on disturbed sites at lead and zinc mines in Zambia (Leteinturier et al., 2001). It also stabilizes tailing dunes in Paraíba, Brazil (Santos et al., 2000). It was suggested for restoration of degraded soils in Jalisco, Mexico (Romo Campos et al., 2001).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Forage


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


  • Botanical garden/zoo


  • Potted plant
  • Seed trade

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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M. repens is very similar in appearance to Melinis minutiflora and Melinis nerviglumis. M. minutiflora has smooth (glabrous) glumes and pedicels and the lower florets lack paleas. M. nerviglumis and M. repens have hairs on the glumes and usually on the pedicels. M. nerviglumis has rolled leaves and strongly overlapping leaf sheaths. M. nerviglumis plants are usually perennial and an ornamental cultivar is marketed as 'Pink Crystal' (Utah State University Herbarium, 2012).

Prevention and Control

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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.

Public Awareness

Fact sheets on identification and impact could reduce the purchasing of natal grass as a landscape plant and encourage farmers and ranchers to control the plant.


Natal grass is currently controlled mainly through physical/mechanical and chemical methods both in agricultural systems and natural areas. Preventing seed set reduces local dispersal.

Cultural Control and Sanitary Measures

Clean agricultural and landscape equipment used in infested areas.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Prevent seed-set by removing or cutting grass prior to flowering. Cut out small populations (Florabase, 2012). Fire kills seeds and adult plants to a greater extent than the fire-tolerant native grass, Heteropogon contortus in Hawaii (Daehler, 2003). Fire may be ineffective in reducing M. repens if rainfall is abundant after the fire (Wilkinson, 2003).

Cattle and sheep eat M. repens but have not been used to control it. 

Movement Control

Since seeds are wind-dispersed, removal of seed heads could significantly reduce spread.

Biological Control

No biological control is currently available.

Chemical Control

Herbicides containing fluazifop or glyphosate are used to control M. repens. The best control is achieved when plants are sprayed before flowering and seed-set or after germination following a fire (Florabase, 2012).

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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The growth of Natal grass in its native range, or even what its native range is, is not well studied. Relatively little is known about whether M. repens directly competes with other early successional species. Further research is needed on restoring invaded early successional ecosystems.


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Links to Websites

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FloraBase Flora of Western Australia
Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk (PIER)


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20/08/2012 Original text by:

Sylvan Kaufman, Denton, Maryland, USA

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