Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Cenchrus ciliaris
(Buffel grass)



Cenchrus ciliaris (Buffel grass)


  • Last modified
  • 14 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cenchrus ciliaris
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Buffel grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Cenchrus ciliaris is a grass native to southern Asia and much of Africa; it has been planted as a fodder and for erosion control in most warm arid and semi-arid regions of the world. It commonly escapes from pl...

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Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing leaves and flower spikes. Kahoolawe at Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA.  April, 2006.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing leaves and flower spikes. Kahoolawe at Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2006.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing leaves and flower spikes. Kahoolawe at Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA.  April, 2006.
HabitCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing leaves and flower spikes. Kahoolawe at Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2006.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing growth form. Lae Paki, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. October, 2005.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing growth form. Lae Paki, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. October, 2005.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing growth form. Lae Paki, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. October, 2005.
HabitCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit, showing growth form. Lae Paki, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. October, 2005.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit.
HabitCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit on coastal slopes. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA.  February, 2005
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit on coastal slopes. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. February, 2005
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit on coastal slopes. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA.  February, 2005
HabitCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit on coastal slopes. Manana, Oahu, Hawaii, USA. February, 2005©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit. Moomomi, Molokai, Hawaii, USA.  May, 2005.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit. Moomomi, Molokai, Hawaii, USA. May, 2005.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit. Moomomi, Molokai, Hawaii, USA.  May, 2005.
HabitCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); habit. Moomomi, Molokai, Hawaii, USA. May, 2005.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); invasive habit. Seagull, Kahoolawe.  May, 2005
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); invasive habit. Seagull, Kahoolawe. May, 2005
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); invasive habit. Seagull, Kahoolawe.  May, 2005
HabitCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); invasive habit. Seagull, Kahoolawe. May, 2005©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Habit, showing flower spikes. Honokanaia, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. December, 2008.
TitleHabit and flower spikes
CaptionHabit, showing flower spikes. Honokanaia, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. December, 2008.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Habit, showing flower spikes. Honokanaia, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. December, 2008.
Habit and flower spikesHabit, showing flower spikes. Honokanaia, Kahoolawe, Hawaii, USA. December, 2008. ©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); seedhead. Cargo pier Sand Island, Midway Atoll, Hawaii, USA. June, 2008.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); seedhead. Cargo pier Sand Island, Midway Atoll, Hawaii, USA. June, 2008.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); seedhead. Cargo pier Sand Island, Midway Atoll, Hawaii, USA. June, 2008.
SeedheadCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); seedhead. Cargo pier Sand Island, Midway Atoll, Hawaii, USA. June, 2008.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); detail of inflorescence. Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2006.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); detail of inflorescence. Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2006.
Copyright©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); detail of inflorescence. Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2006.
InflorescenceCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); detail of inflorescence. Molokini, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2006.©Forest Starr & Kim Starr - CC BY 4.0
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); inflorescence.
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); inflorescence.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); inflorescence.
InflorescenceCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); inflorescence.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); close-up of inflorescence, showing node, leaf and ligule.
TitleClose-up of inflorescence
CaptionCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); close-up of inflorescence, showing node, leaf and ligule.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Cenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); close-up of inflorescence, showing node, leaf and ligule.
Close-up of inflorescenceCenchrus ciliaris (buffel grass); close-up of inflorescence, showing node, leaf and ligule.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cenchrus ciliaris L.

Preferred Common Name

  • Buffel grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Cenchrus bulbosus Fresen.
  • Cenchrus bulbosus Fresen. ex Steud.
  • Cenchrus ciliaris Fig. & De Not.
  • Cenchrus glaucus C.R. Mudaliar & Sundararaj
  • Cenchrus longifolius Hochst. ex Steud.
  • Cenchrus melanostachyus A. Camus
  • Cenchrus mutabilis Wight ex Hook. f.
  • Cenchrus pennisetiformis Hochst. & Steud.
  • Cenchrus pubescens L. ex B.D. Jacks.
  • Cenchrus rufescens Desf.
  • Pennisetum rangei Mez
  • Pennisetum rufescens (Desf.) Spreng.
  • Pennisetum cenchroides Rich. ex Pers.
  • Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link
  • Pennisetum distylum Guss.
  • Pennisetum incomptum Nees ex Steud.
  • Pennisetum oxyphyllum Peter
  • Pennisetum pachycladum Stapf
  • Pennisetum panormitanum Lojac.
  • Pennisetum petraeum Steud.
  • Pennisetum polycladum Chiov.
  • Pennisetum prieurii A. Chev.
  • Pennisetum rufescens Hochst. ex Steud.
  • Pennisetum teneriffae Steud.

International Common Names

  • English: African foxtail grass; African foxtailgrass; buffelgrass
  • Spanish: yerba de salinas; Zacate buffel
  • French: cenchrus cilié; cenchrus de Rhodésie

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: capim-búfel
  • Cuba: guisaso
  • India: anjan; anjan grass; dhaman
  • Italy: cencro ciliare
  • Mexico: pasto buffel; zacate buffel
  • Puerto Rico: yerba de salinas
  • South Africa: Bloubuffelsgras

EPPO code

  • PESCI (Pennisetum ciliare)

Summary of Invasiveness

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Cenchrus ciliaris is a grass native to southern Asia and much of Africa; it has been planted as a fodder and for erosion control in most warm arid and semi-arid regions of the world. It commonly escapes from plantings, especially into disturbed habitats, where it promotes a grass-fire cycle. Increased fire frequency and intensity, together with dense growth of C. ciliaris, can transform invaded ecosystems, altering ecosystem processes and threatening native plants and animals. Spread is mainly by seeds. Once the species has been introduced, roadsides and seasonal water drainages provide conduits for rapid spread to new sites. Open and semi-open habitats are especially vulnerable to invasion, even without human disturbance. Major C. ciliaris invasions have occurred in Australia, the south-western United States, Mexico, and Hawaii (Weber (2003) lists it as invasive in Australia, Hawaii and the western USA). The promotion of planting of C. ciliaris in other regions has been relatively recent, so additional invasion sites are likely in the future. Furthermore, planting of new cultivars with wider environmental tolerances may promote more extensive invasions.

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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This species was originally named Cenchrus ciliaris by Carl Linnaeus in 1771, and this is still the current preferred name. Although it is sometimes referred to as Pennisetum ciliare, Chemisquy et al. (2010) found that the genera Pennisetum and Cenchrus are not clearly separable based on DNA and morphological traits.  Therefore, priority is given to the name Cenchrus based on its earlier use in the taxonomic literature. It is commonly known as buffel grass. A wide range of other synonyms have been applied in both Cenchrus and Pennisetum (The Plant List, 2013).


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C. ciliaris is a fast-growing, shortly stoloniferous perennial that can flower in its first year of growth. Individual plants develop as clumps usually with only limited lateral spread, but a clump may eventually grow to >1 m in diameter. Morphology (especially size) is highly variable depending on the genotype and the environment. Height of flowering culms may range from 15 cm to ~1.5 m. The width of the blades typically varies from 0.5-1.5 cm. Inflorescences are bristly, typically from 3-15 cm long and 1-2 cm wide, and can range in colour from tan to purple-tinged. spikelets are 3-6 mm long with 2 florets, in clusters of 2-4, each surrounded by an involucre of feather-like bristles joined at the base, up to 15 mm long. Cariopses are ovoid, 1.5-2 mm long. Seed production is generally high, with most fascicles (detachable dispersal units) containing 1-2 viable, apomictic seeds.

Plant Type

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Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated

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


AfghanistanPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
BahrainPresentNativeShamin, 1980
BhutanPresentIntroducedNoltie, 2000
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-GuangdongPresentIntroducedMichalk and Huang, 1994
-HainanPresentIntroducedMichalk et al., 1998
Cocos IslandsPresentIntroducedGeorge et al., 1993a weed of disturbed open areas
IndiaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
IndonesiaPresentNativePattiselanno, 2008
IranPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
IraqPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
IsraelPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
JordanPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
LaosPresentIntroducedTHOMAS and HUMPHREYS, 1970pasture grass
OmanPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
PakistanPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
Saudi ArabiaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
SyriaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
TaiwanPresentIntroducedFlora of China Editorial Committee, 2012naturalized in the south
United Arab EmiratesPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
YemenPresentNativeCook et al., 2005


AngolaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
BotswanaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
Burkina FasoPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
Cape VerdePresentGBIF, 2012
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeGBIF, 2012
DjiboutiPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
EgyptPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
Equatorial GuineaPresentNativeDeLisle, 1962
EritreaPresentNativeGutiérrez and Morrone, 2012
EthiopiaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
GhanaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
KenyaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
LibyaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
MadagascarPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
MalawiPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
MaliPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
MauritaniaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
MoroccoPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
MozambiquePresentNativeCook et al., 2005
NamibiaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
NigerPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
NigeriaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
RwandaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
SenegalPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
Sierra LeonePresentNativeGBIF, 2012
SomaliaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
South AfricaPresentNativeClayton and Renvoize, 1982“probably introduced in the south where it occurs on rubbish tips, roadsides, etc. ”
-Canary IslandsPresentNativeDuke, 1983
SudanPresentNativeClayton and Renvoize, 1982
SwazilandPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
TanzaniaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
TogoPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
TunisiaPresentNativeGBIF, 2012
UgandaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
ZambiaPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
ZimbabwePresentNativeCook et al., 2005

North America

MexicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Arriaga et al., 2004; Clayton et al., 2012
USAPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-ArizonaPresentIntroduced Invasive Esque et al., 2007; USDA-NRCS, 2012
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012Southern California
-FloridaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Daehler and Carino, 1998; USDA-NRCS, 2012
-LouisianaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-MissouriPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-New YorkPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2012
-TexasPresentIntroduced Invasive Flanders et al., 2006; USDA-NRCS, 2012

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
ArubaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
BahamasPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedChacón and Saborío, 2012; GBIF, 2012field station
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012
CuraçaoPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
El SalvadorPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012naturalized
GuadeloupePresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
HondurasPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
NicaraguaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
PanamaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Acevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroducedZuloaga et al., 2003
BoliviaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
BrazilPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2012
-AlagoasPresentIntroduced Invasive I3N Brasil, 2014
ColombiaPresentIntroducedGarcía-Ulloa et al., 2005sea level to 1000 m
EcuadorPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
French GuianaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
GuyanaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
ParaguayPresentIntroducedZuloaga et al., 2003
PeruPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2012
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedVillarreal et al., 2010; GBIF, 2012Present as a dominant weed in Maracaibo, Zulia state.


GermanyPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedGBIF, 2012
ItalyPresentNativeCook et al., 2005
PortugalPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-MadeiraPresentGBIF, 2012
SpainPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
UKPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedGBIF, 2012Kew (Botanical Garden)


AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Franks, 2002; Clayton et al., 2012
FijiPresentIntroducedROBERTS, 1970
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedFlorence et al., 2012
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedMacKee, 1994
NiuePresentIntroducedPIER, 2012
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012
TongaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2012
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresent only in captivity/cultivationIntroducedPIER, 2012

History of Introduction and Spread

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Marshall et al. (2012) provide an historical overview of introductions of C. ciliaris around the world. In general, deliberate introductions were made for forage in dry tropical and subtropical environments beginning in the early 1900s.  An interesting exception was the introduction of the species to central Australia by Afghan cameleers in the 1870s (Humphreys, 1967). Between the 1950s and the 1970s, large scale plantings were made in Australia and the United States, and from there C. ciliaris was widely marketed and distributed by governmental and non-profit organizations as a “wonder crop”.  Today, it has probably been introduced to every warm, arid region of the world, although records are not available for every country or oceanic island. Major areas of spread as an invasive plant include Australia, Mexico, and the United States (including Hawaii). In the West Indies this species is listed as invasive in Cuba, Puerto Rico and The Virgin Islands (Acevedo and Strong, 2012). The first record of C. ciliaris within this region was made in Puerto Rico in 1915 (US National Herbarium).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia 1870s Yes No Marshall et al. (2012) with camels
Hawaii 1930s Forage (pathway cause) Yes No Marshall et al. (2012)
Mexico 1930s Forage (pathway cause) Yes No Marshall et al. (2012)
USA 1930s Forage (pathway cause) ,
Habitat restoration and improvement (pathway cause)
Yes No Marshall et al. (2012) In southwest. Used for erosion control.

Risk of Introduction

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Although C. ciliaris has probably already been introduced to all major arid regions where it can grow, there may be minor sub-regions or islands where it is absent or where it initially failed to establish. In addition, for areas where it has already been introduced, the deliberate introduction of new genetic stocks for forage or land stabilization poses risks for further invasion. Initial importation to a new region is likely to be deliberate, but introduction to new sites within a region may be accidental, through attachment of propagules to clothing, fur, or machinery. Water drainage routes associated with seasonal flooding may also introduce propagules to new and distant sites (see ‘Movement and Dispersal’ section).


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C. ciliaris grows in a variety of arid and semi-arid habitats, in particular those subject to disturbance. For further information see the ‘Habitats’ table and the ‘Environmental requirements’ paragraphs in the ‘Biology and Ecology’ text section.

Habitat List

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Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Disturbed areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Principal habitat Natural
Deserts Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Deserts Principal habitat Natural
Arid regions Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Principal habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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In its native range, C. ciliaris is reported as a weed of various crops including chickpea Cicer arietinum (Marwat et al., 2004), cotton (Rajput et al., 2008), potato (Shedayi et al., 2011) and maize Zea mays (Zair Muhammad, 2011), but specific impacts of the species on crops have not been quantified.

Biology and Ecology

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C. ciliaris is apomictic, meaning that it can produce asexual seeds that are genetically identical to the mother plant; however, genetic markers indicate that sexual reproduction is also likely (Kharrat-Souissi et al. 2011). Tremendous genetic variation has been identified among C. ciliaris stocks; this results in variable morphology and ecological tolerances (Pengelly et al., 1992; Hignight et al., 1991).  Among 568 screened accessions, 54% were tetraploids with 36 chromosomes, 24% were pentaploids with 45 chromosomes, 4% were hexaploids with 54 chromosomes, >1% were septaploids with 63 chromosomes, and 17% were aneuploids (Burson et al., 2012).  Natural hybridization between C. ciliaris and Pennisetum species seems unlikely due to genetic incompatibilities (e.g. Marchais and Tostain 1997), but hybridization with Cenchrus setigerus has been reported, and hybridization between different introduced C. ciliaris varieties could lead to increased spread and invasiveness.

Reproductive Biology

Although limited spread of C. ciliaris may be observed at arid sites in dry years, unusually wet years can promote sudden and expansive seedling establishment across large areas (e.g. Burgess et al., 1991).  Once established, the plants are long-lived and highly tolerant of drought. C. ciliaris can potentially flower in its first year of growth (facultative annual), but established plants may live for more than a decade.  Seeds can remain viable in soil for at least four years (Winkworth 1971). Fresh seeds have low germination rates due to dormancy, which is typically lost over 4-16 weeks (Hacker and Ratcliff, 1989). Seeds may germinate throughout the year in response to rain.  Seedlings can tolerate ~60% shade (Pyon et al., 1977), but flowering and seed production might require more light.

Physiology and Phenology

C. ciliaris utilizes the C4 photosynthetic pathway, which provides an advantage under hot and dry growing conditions. During extended dry periods, above-ground plant parts may die back completely, but the rhizomes/root mass can survive and resprout quickly in response to rain. In seasonally dry environments, flowering is in response to adequate rain and is not strongly dependent on photoperiod. In managed pastures, fire is often prescribed at 1-3 year intervals to maximize productivity and nutritional content of C. ciliaris as a forage and to control establishment of woody plants (Hamilton and Scifres 1982; Mayeux and Hamilton, 1983; Gupta and Trivedi, 2001).


C. ciliaris is commonly associated with scattered woody legumes such as Prosopis spp., Acacia spp. or Leucaena leucocephala. Other drought-tolerant grasses may co-occur with it including Urochloa maxima [Panicum maximum], Setaria verticillata, Chloris spp., Hyparrhenia spp. and Eragrostis spp. In South Africa, a Cenchrus ciliarisCyperus marginatus community has been described along seasonally dry riverbanks and drainage routes (Werger and Coetzee, 1977).

Environmental Requirements

C. ciliaris prefers dry or seasonally dry environments. Rao et al. (1996) reported optimal yields with 180-250 mm of rainfall concentrated in the growing season, although yields were also high with total rainfall of ~650 mm.  There is substantial variation among varieties/genotypes in drought tolerance (Kharrat-Souissi et al., 2012).  C. ciliaris has been reported to persist on sandy (fast-draining) soils with annual rainfall as high as 1200 mm (Cox et al 1988). At higher rainfall, it may be outcompeted by taller grasses, or it may be increasingly susceptible to fungal pathogens such as Magnaporthe (Pyricularia) grisea (Perrott and Chakraborty, 1999). In North America, Ibarra-F et al. (1995) found that C. ciliaris plantings failed to persist above 600 mm of annual rainfall, but only one cultivar was studied (T-4464, common buffel grass).  C. ciliaris has spread successfully from planting in areas having a dry period of 150-210 days; mean maximum temperature ranged between 24 and 32°C and minimum temperatures in the coldest month ranged from 5 to 15°C (Ibarra-F. et al. 1995).  Common buffel grass has low tolerance of freezing temperatures, but can tolerate very high air temperatures (approaching 45°C) (Barrera and Castellanos, 2007). C. ciliaris does not tolerate water-logged soils. In pot experiments, Anderson (1974) found that C. ciliaris plants were often killed when exposed to 15-20 days of artificial flooding, but there was substantial variation among cultivars. C. ciliaris is reportedly intolerant of excessive manganese, and this might be related to low availability of calcium under such conditions (Smith, 1979) There is great potential for breeding C. ciliaris that can tolerate different environmental conditions such as heavy clay soils (Hacker and Waite 2001), higher salinity (Griffa et al., 2010)  or cold environments (Hussey and  Burson, 2005). 


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A - Tropical/Megathermal climate Preferred Average temp. of coolest month > 18°C, > 1500mm precipitation annually
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 Tolerated < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
40 40


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration29number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall3751200mm; 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
  • saline
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Aeneolamia albofasciata Herbivore Whole plant not specific
Magnaporthe oryzae Pathogen Whole plant not specific
Mampava rhodoneura Herbivore Seeds not specific

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Magnaporthe (Pyricularia) grisea is a blast fungus that has caused dieback of C. ciliaris in the United States and Mexico, where the widely planted common buffel grass (cultivar T-4464) appears to be especially susceptible (Rodriguez et al., 1999). Other cultivars have shown tolerance to the fungus (Díaz-Franco and Méndez-Rodríguez, 2005). In Australia, dieback of C. ciliaris that seems to be associated with an unidentified pathogen has been reported (Makiela and Harrower, 2008).  Injury and death of C. ciliaris due to feeding by spittle bugs (Aeneolamia albofasciata Lall.) has been observed in Mexico, especially in wet years (Martin-R et al., 1995). Around Queensland, Australia, larvae of the buffel grass seed moth (Mampava rhodoneura Turner) sometimes feed on seed heads (Cook et al., 2005), but they do not appear to be economically important.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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C. ciliaris has been deliberately transported between most arid and semi-arid regions of the world. After deliberate plantings, seeds are spread by wind, water, machinery and animals (including potential for attachment to human clothing).

Natural Dispersal (non-biotic)

Wind may be the primary mode of dispersal over short-to-moderate distances. Common establishment of C. ciliaris along drainage areas (Puckey et al. 2007) suggests water dispersal in some cases.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

One study found that seeds ingested by cattle remained intact but failed to germinate (Gardener et al ., 1993), suggesting that internal dispersal by animals may be limited; however, seed-bearing fascicles have bristles that can cling externally to animals and clothing, and seeds are small (1.5-2 mm) and could be dispersed with mud on hooves or vehicles. Ants can also disperse C. ciliaris seeds (Goldsmith et al., 2008).

Accidental Introduction

Roadside gusts associated with passing vehicles are likely to facilitate the spread of seeds along roadsides (and similarly, along railways). Roadside mowing could also facilitate spread of seeds.

Intentional Introduction

C. ciliaris has been planted as a fodder and for erosion control in most warm arid and semi-arid regions of the world.

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Land vehicles Yes Yes
Livestock Yes
Soil, sand and gravel Yes Yes
Water Yes
Wind Yes

Impact Summary

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

Economic Impact

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For positive economic impacts, see ‘Uses’ section.

In its native range, C. ciliaris is reported as a weed of various crops including chickpea Cicer arietinum (Marwat et al., 2004), cotton (Rajput et al., 2008), potato (Shedayi et al., 2011) and maize Zea mays (Zair Muhammad, 2011), but economic costs have not been directly quantified. It has been reported as a host for the sugarcane whitefly (Neomaskellia bergii (Signoret)), an important economic pest of sugarcane (Palmer, 2009a). It can also serve as a host for the rusty plum aphid (Hysteroneura setariae (Thomas)), which is a vector of several viruses that impact economic crops (Palmer, 2009b).

Substantial expenditures have been directed towards control of C. ciliaris in protected natural areas. One example is at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona, USA, where C. ciliaris was ranked as the top priority weed for eradication and more than 890 person-hours were dedicated to the effort (Rutman and Dickson, 2002). Money is being spent on numerous control and eradication programs around the world (e.g. Dixon et al, 2002; Daehler and Goergen, 2005).

Environmental Impact

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Impact on Habitats

Erosion and dust control via ground covering can be a positive environmental impact of C. ciliaris (Warren and Aschmann, 1993; Carroll and Tucker, 2000).  Dominance by the species in pastures can also reduce the abundance of unpalatable or otherwise noxious weeds, which could have positive environmental effects if fewer chemical herbicides are used in pastures.  C. ciliaris has reportedly become an important component of the diet of native wombats in parts of Australia (Low, 1997), and it is probably consumed to some extent by native herbivores in other parts of the world where it has been introduced (e.g. it is eaten by native deer in the southwestern United States (Everitt and Gonzalez 1979).

In the Sonoran region of North America, deforestation for the planting of C. ciliaris pasture has affected hundreds of thousands of hectares (Franklin et al., 2006).  After initial planting, C. ciliaris invades cactus shrublands, forming a continuous understorey that promotes fire, which kills native plants and drives a grass-fire cycle that converts the system to a buffel grassland (e.g. see Fig 2 in Brenner, 2010).  Affected native species include creosote (Larrea tridentata), saltbush (Atriplex spp.), bursage (Ambrosia spp.) and saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea).  Dead biomass of C. ciliaris tends to accumulate across years in the absence of fire, leading to increased fire risk in unburned stands over time. C. ciliaris fires may be hotter and more intense than fires fuelled by native vegetation (McDonald and McPherson, 2011).  Buffel grasslands have also been reported to have lower productivity than some native desert shrublands (Franklin et al., 2006). In the south-eastern range of the species in Mexico, soil beneath C. ciliaris that had been established for 10-20 years had 40% lower nitrogen than neighbouring uninvaded areas, and this pattern could suggest declines in productivity over time following invasion (Ibarra-Flores et al., 1999). Arriaga et al (2004) used a model to project the future distribution of the species in Mexico, and concluded that desert scrub, mesquite woodland, and tropical deciduous forest were at the greatest risk of invasion. In Australia, similar conversion of native Eucalyptus woodland and Acacia woodland to buffel grassland occurs via a grass-fire cycle (Butler and Fairfax, 2003; Miller et al., 2010).

Impact on Biodiversity

In Australia, Fairfax and Fensham (2000) found that plant species diversity was significantly lower in C. ciliaris pastures as compared to native grass pastures. Franks (2002) surveyed remnant Eucalyptus woodland in Australia and found that C. ciliaris cover was negatively correlated with understorey native plant diversity.  In semi-arid vegetation of central Australia, invaded areas had reduced plant richness, and native plant population declines were observed among all plant growth forms (Clarke et al., 2005). Jackson (2005) found that diversity of native herbaceous species declined with increasing C. ciliaris cover in open woodlands in Australia. Daehler and Carinio (1998) found that C. ciliaris invasion was associated with substantially reduced native and non-native plant richness in Hawaii. Various endangered and vulnerable endemic plants are threatened by C. ciliaris invasion in Australia and the United States (see Threatened Species table). The possibility of allelopathy by C. ciliaris is supported by laboratory assays in which C. ciliaris leachates reduced germination of other species (Fulbright and Fulbright 1990; Farrukh Hussain et al., 2011), but these findings need to be confirmed in field studies.

In a study in Texas, USA, Flanders et al. (2006) compared bird use of native-dominated vegetation versus areas invaded by C. ciliaris and Lehmann lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana). Although shrub and canopy cover were similar at native and invaded sites, abundance of many birds was greater in native vegetation, particularly among birds that forage on the ground. Arthropod abundance was also greater in the native vegetation, which may partly explain the greater abundance of birds there. In a semi-arid woodland in Australia, C. ciliaris invasion appears to have altered the distribution of native reptiles (Eyre et al., 2009). In the United States and Mexico, reduced woody cover and plant litter associated with C. ciliaris invasion and fire have likely reduced the area of suitable habitat for desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii), jaguarundis (Felis yaguarondi), and ocelots (Felis pardalis) (Esque et al. 2007).

In some cases, rare animal species are threatened by C. ciliaris invasion. One example is Slater’s skink (Egernia slateri) in Australia, where “degradation of its alluvial habitat as a result of invasion by the introduced buffel grass and associated changes in fire regimes appears the most likely causes of the species’ decline” (Pavey, 2006). Another example is the Desert Sand Skipper (Croitana aestiva), an endangered butterfly restricted to a small area in central Australia, most of which has been invaded by C. ciliaris (Brabey et al., 2006). The larval host plant of this butterfly is unknown, but other species in the genus feed on native grasses, which have greatly declined following C. ciliaris invasion. Also in Australia, C. ciliaris has been identified as a threat to the endangered bridled nailtail wallaby because “buffel grass has out-competed other herbaceous species, which are the preferred browse of wallabies.  In addition, dense swards of buffel grass may act as a barrier to wallaby dispersal” (Lundie-Jenkins and Lowry, 2005, p. 27). Because of the tremendous spatial extent of C. ciliaris invasions and the severe modification of habitat associated with these invasions (including altered fire regime), it is likely that habitats for numerous rare species (both plants and animals) have been completely subsumed by C. ciliaris.

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Ayenia limitaris (border ayenia)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)USACompetition - monopolizing resourcesEsque et al., 2007
Croitana aestiva (desert sand skipper)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)AustraliaBraby et al., 2006
Egernia slateri (Slater's skink)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)AustraliaPavey, 2006
Manihot walkerae (Walker's manioc)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)USACompetition - monopolizing resourcesEsque et al., 2007
Minuria tridens (Minnie daisy)VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)Australian Northern TerritoryCompetition - monopolizing resourcesNano and Pavey, 2008
Olearia macdonnellensisVU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable) VU (IUCN red list: Vulnerable)Australian Northern TerritoryCompetition - monopolizing resourcesNano and Pavey, 2008
Onychogalea fraenata (bridled nailtail wallaby)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)QueenslandLundie-Jenkins and Lowry, 2005
Physaria thamnophila (Zapata bladderpod)EN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)USACompetition - monopolizing resourcesEsque et al., 2007

Social Impact

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C. ciliaris invasion in Australia is apparently leading to declines in some traditional Aboriginal food plants such as spinifex (Triodia sp.) (Low, 1997).  In its native range, C. ciliaris stands harbour ticks that carry human and wildlife diseases (Wanzala and Okanga, 1996), and it is conceivable that humans and animals walking in areas invaded by the species will be more susceptible to tick bites, as compared to the more open groundcover that existed prior to invasion. Fires promoted by C. ciliaris can threaten homes and other structures and facilities utilized by people.

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
  • Is a habitat generalist
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of fire regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately


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Economic Value

C. ciliaris has had positive economic impacts as a fodder for domestic animals. Its drought tolerance and tolerance of overgrazing allow increased production compared to native grasslands, especially in marginal environments (e.g. Martin-R et al. 1995).  It is particularly valued for its ability to produce grazeable biomass quickly in response to periodic or unpredictable rain (Marshall et al., 2011).  However, some studies have reported declines in productivity of C. ciliaris pastures over time, presumably due to nutrient limitations (Ibarra-Flores et al., 1999), so a long-term maintenance of economic benefits is uncertain. C. ciliaris has been used to restore productivity to degraded land around mining sites in Australia (Bisrat et al., 2004), yielding economic benefits. In India, its seeds are sometimes mixed with millet for bread-making (Quattrocchi 2006), but the economic value of human-consumed seeds is probably small.

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Forage


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


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No information is available on specific tests used for detection; see the section on ‘Similarities to Other Species’ for a comparison of C. ciliaris to similar-looking species.

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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Cenchrus setiger Vahl (C. setigerus, birdwood grass) and Cenchrus pennisetiformis Hochst. & Steud. (Cloncurry buffel grass) have been used less frequently as tropical pasture grasses. C. setigerus has spikelet bristles that are barely emergent from the spikelet (2-4 mm), while C. ciliaris has bristles that are obviously emergent from the spikelet (6-18 mm long), with one bristle that is longer than the rest.  C. pennisetiformis has long bristles like C. ciliaris, but the bristles are fused at the base to a greater degree (1-2.5 mm) as compared to C. ciliaris (0.5-1 mm) (Clayton et al., 2012). C. pennisetiformis might be a natural hybrid between C. ciliaris and C. setigerus (Cook et al. 2005). Cenchrus echinatus L. (southern sandspur) is a noxious weed with stiff spikelet bristles that can puncture human skin, whereas C. ciliaris bristles will bend or break if spikelets are squeezed between two fingers.

Cenchrus spp. differ from Pennisetum spp. in that the involucre of bristles is fused at the base in Cenchrus, while in Pennisetum the bristles are individually free.

Prevention and Control

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C. ciliaris seedling establishment is especially prolific in gaps in vegetation (McIvor 2003), so disturbed or naturally open environments are at the highest risk of initial and rapid invasion. Road or building construction in or near natural areas can allow an opportunity for rapid invasion (e.g. Barrera, 2008), so sites of disturbance should be carefully monitored.

C. ciliaris spreads rapidly along roadsides, and from there it spreads into a wide range of open or semi-open environments with the assistance of fire or other disturbances. Isolated roadside infestations should be a priority for control in an effort to slow spread and reduce risk of invasion of surrounding habitats.  Puckey et al. (2007) found that early detection and mapping within natural areas was most efficiently done by aerial (helicopter) surveys, while also considering probabilistic factors such as proximity to rail tracks or drainage sites, which increases efficiency of searches and detection.

In areas where C. ciliaris is promoted for pastures, it might be possible to use a buffer-zone management approach to keep it from spreading into conservation areas (Friedel et al., 2011). A buffer zone approach would be most feasible for protecting relatively small, high-value natural areas.

Physical/Mechanical Control

Once C. ciliaris has become established in an area, manual removal (by digging) has sometimes been effective for small areas (e.g. Daehler and Goergen 2005), but manual removal is very labour intensive and plants can grow back from small rhizome pieces left in the soil. Large numbers of volunteers have been used to pull and dig out C. ciliaris spreading along roadsides (e.g. Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center, – see Links to Websites). The excavated material is collected in plastic bags and removed from the site.

Mowing is not effective in reducing C. ciliaris invasion, and may help disperse the species if the mown plants have inflorescences. On the other hand, mowing or grazing may be helpful in reducing fire risks as part of an integrated management plan.

Biological Control

Classical biocontrol is unlikely to be an option because of actual and/or perceived benefits of C. ciliaris, and also because classical biocontrol of grasses has generally proven difficult. However, use of grazers to manage the species could be an option for reducing its dominance (and fuel load) in some areas (Friedel et al., 2011).

Chemical Control

Dixon et al. (2002) found that glyphosate effectively killed C. ciliaris and haloxyfop was successfully used to kill seedlings and as a grass-specific pre-emergent herbicide to prevent recolonization. Daehler and Goergen (2005) also found that glyphosate effectively killed established C. ciliaris. At higher concentrations, fluazifop-p, a grass-specific herbicide, was also effective at killing C. ciliaris (Dixon et al., 2002). In all cases, plants need to be actively growing at the time of initial herbicide application. Dixon et al. (2002) found that an ideal timing for herbicide application exists a few weeks after rain, when established plants are actively growing and new seedlings have also germinated. Control rates were approximately 98% across an area of several hectares. Control sites need to be monitored for several years following seasonal rains, as seedlings will continue to emerge from the seed bank.

Ecosystem Restoration

After control of dense C. ciliaris populations, revegetation with desired plants is important to minimize re-invasion risks and to reduce erosion.  Naturally open areas pose a unique challenge because after C. ciliaris has been removed, the natural biological soil crust has been disrupted and it may require a decade or more to redevelop (Belnap and Eldridge 2001), leaving the area susceptible to reinvasion and/or soil erosion.

Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs

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Questions include the following: If fire can be controlled, what are the long-term successional trends in areas invaded by C. ciliaris? What are the invasion risks associated with new C. ciliaris cultivars selected for broader environmental tolerances? Under what circumstances can barrier zones be used to effectively protect natural areas from C. ciliaris invasion?


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Links to Websites

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Southern Arizona Buffelgrass Coordination Center
Tropical Forages: An Interactive Selection Tool
USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System


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27/02/14 Updated by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

19/10/12: Original text by:

Curtis Daehler, University of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822, Hawaii, USA.

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