Megathyrsus maximus (Guinea grass)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Biology and Ecology
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Plant Trade
- Wood Packaging
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Threatened Species
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Megathyrsus maximus (Jacq.) B.K. Simon & S.W.L. Jacobs
Preferred Common Name
- Guinea grass
Other Scientific Names
- Megathyrsus maximus var pubiglumis (K. Schum.) B.K. Simon & Jacobs
- Megathyrsus maximus var. coloratus (C.T. White) B.K. Simon & Jacobs
- Panicum bivonianum Brullo, Miniss, Scelsi & Spamp.
- Panicum eburneum Trin.
- Panicum heynii Roth
- Panicum hirsutissimum Steud.
- Panicum jumentorum Pers.
- Panicum laeve Lam.
- Panicum maximum Jacq., 1781
- Panicum maximum subsp. commune (Nees) Peter
- Panicum maximum subsp. pubescens M. Sharma
- Panicum maximum var. altissimum Kuntze
- Panicum maximum var. coloratum C.T. White
- Panicum maximum var. commune Nees
- Panicum maximum var. confine Chiov.
- Panicum maximum var. congoensis Vanderyst
- Panicum maximum var. glaucum Nees
- Panicum maximum var. heterotrichum Peter
- Panicum maximum var. hirsutissimum (Steud.) Oliv.
- Panicum maximum var. hirsutum Peter
- Panicum maximum var. laeve Nees
- Panicum maximum var. laevis Nees
- Panicum maximum var. maximum
- Panicum maximum var. pubiglume K. Schum
- Panicum maximum var. trichoglume Robyns
- Panicum pamplemoussense Steud.
- Panicum polygamum Sw.
- Panicum praticola Salzm. ex Döll
- Panicum prealongum Steud.
- Panicum scaberrimum Lag.
- Panicum sparsum Schumach.
- Panicum teff Desv.
- Panicum tephrosanthum Schinz
- Panicum trichocondylum Steud.
- Panicum trichoglume Engl.
- Urochloa maxima (Jacq.) R. Webster
- Urochloa maxima var. trichoglume
International Common Names
- English: African grass; buffalo grass; colonial grass; elephant grass; green panic; green panicgrass; hamil grass; purple top buffalo grass; Tanzania grass
- Spanish: cauca; colonial; grama Castilla; hierba de guinea; mijo de guinea; pasto africano; pasto de guinea; pasto guinea; pasto sabolla; pasto Tanzania; zacate guinea; zacatón
- French: capime guiné; fataque; herbe à éléphant; herbe de guinée; panic élevé
- Arabic: hhash el gina
- Chinese: da shu; yang cao
Local Common Names
- Argentina: gatton panic; pasto guinea
- Bolivia: pasto gatton
- Brazil: capim colonia guiné; capim coloniao; capim de planta; capim guiné; capim sempre-verde; capim siempre verde; capim-de-cavalo; capim-tanzânia; coloniao; coloninho; gatton panic; guiné; makueni; milhã; sempreverde; sempre-verde; tobiata
- Colombia: guina; pasto guinea
- Costa Rica: zacate castilla
- Cuba: yerba guinea
- Denmark: guineagras; hirse
- Ecuador: gamelote; hierba guinea; pasto saboya
- Estonia: suur hirss
- Germany: guineagras; hirse; rishirse
- Honduras: zacate guinea
- India: gini ghas; ginia gaddi; ginio pillu
- Indonesia: roempoet banggala; rumput banggala; rumput gajah; soeket londo
- Italy: erba di guinea
- Jamaica: guinea grass
- Japan: ginea kibi
- Kenya: achuko; odunyo
- Laos: nga faed
- Malaysia: rumput sarang sesak
- Mauritius: fataque
- Mexico: camalote; guinea; hoja fina; o pirivilegio; panizo de guinea; pasto guinea; privilegio; rabo de mula; zacate guinea; zacate privilegio; zacaton
- Nepal: gin ghani
- Netherlands: bengaalsh grass
- Nicaragua: zacate guinea
- Peru: grama castilla; pasto guinea; zaina
- Philippines: guinea grass
- Puerto Rico: gramalote; yerba de guinea
- South Africa: barbegras; gewone buffelsgras; white buffalo grass; witbuffelsgras
- Sri Lanka: gini tana; gino pul
- Thailand: yah guinea
- Tonga: saafa
- Turkey: güyana oto
- USA/Hawaii: mauu pulumi
- Venezuela: gamelot; guineon; hierba de India
- Zambia: mundundu
- PANMA (Panicum maximum)
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
M. maximus is a highly successful invader in tropical and warm temperate areas after introduction as fodder. It can spread from seed, is highly competitive with native flora, and while it is highly fire resistant it can quickly spread to invade gaps left in natural vegetation after fire.
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Megathyrsus
- Species: Megathyrsus maximus
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Megathyrsus maximus was formerly known as Panicum maximum, placed in a subgenus of Panicum, within the grass subfamily Panicoideae. This subfamily includes over 3000 species, approximately 500 of them in the polymorphic and polyphyletic genus Panicum. P. maximum was the sole species in Panicum subgenus Megathyrsus, now elevated to genus rank.
The taxonomy is somewhat confused because of the size and diversity of the Panicum genus. Early diagnostic features included length and texture of the lower glume, position of the spikelet in relation to the main axis and presence of bristles below the spikelet (Zuloaga, 1987). Many species that were originally described as Panicum were not well accommodated within the genus. Characteristics with importance were the hilum, attachment of the spike, culm length, thickening of rachilla, spikelet compression, orientation of spikelet, anthecium indurate or membranous, apex of the anthecium and the base of the lemma (Zuloaga and Soderstrom, 1985).
Ellis (1988) described how members of the genus Panicum in southern Africa could be distinguished using leaf blade anatomy. M. maximus has variable vegetative characters such as size, hairiness and growth habit. The structure of the spikelet is uniform with a conspicuously transversely rugose upper lemma, which distinguishes the species from all other species of Panicum.
Generic limits among the relatives of Panicum need critical revision in terms of comparative data recorded at world level. Consequent re-alignments of species might reduce the variability attributed to Panicum. Occasional species with a rachilla prolongation or a second sterile floret, and small suites of species with laterally compressed spikelets, secund one-sided inflorescence branches, stipitate upper florets, linear hila, etc., pose major hazards for printed generic keys; and for use in that context, the description of Panicum will generally require editing at regional level.
The agriculturally important species M. maximus well illustrates the situation. Giussani et al. (2000) suggested that the species was better placed in Urochloa on the basis of their studies using full-length sequences of the chloroplast gene ndhF to determine the phylogeny of the Panicoideae group. Indeed Urochloa maxima (Jacq.) R. Webster has now been listed as the preferred name by a number of databases including PLANTS (USDA-NRCS, 2014) and the Global Invasive Species Database of IUCN (2004). The GRIN database (USDA-ARS, 2013) lists Megathyrsus maximus (Jacq.) B.K. Simon & S.W.L. Jacobs as the preferred name for this species.
Other studies have demonstrated that the open paniculate inflorescence of M. maximus is found in most species of Panicum, and this trait is a very strong morphological indication that this species should not be transferred to either Bracharia (Brown 1977) or Urochloa (Webster 1987), because species within these two genera have strict paniculate inflorescences (raceme of racemes). On the other hand, the possession of the PCK C4 Kranz subtype of leaf anatomy and photosynthetic subtype by M. maximus indicates that the retention of this species within the genus Panicum did not reflect its relationships well there either. Recently, in order to solve the disagreements around this species, the subgenus “Megathyrsus” was raised to generic rank and now the accepted name for Panicum maximum is “Megathyrsus maximus”. The genus Megathyrsus as currently circumscribed is limited to two species: M. maximus and Megathyrsus infestus and both species are characterized by possessing the PCK C4 Kranz subtype of leaf anatomy and photosynthetic subtype (Simon and Jacobs 2003).
DescriptionTop of page
M. maximus is a robust, highly variable grass. It is a loosely to densely tufted perennial.
M. maximus grows in densely tufted clumps with very short rhizomes; erect stems which are cylindrical, slightly flattened at the base, streaked with white wax at the nodes and internodes; glabrous internodes, hairy nodes, infrequently branched, up to 2.5 m. M. maximus is tall, usually 1-2 m tall. Light green, green or bluish-green leaves. The lower nodes of the stolons are rooted and can form new plants (Alves and Xavier, 1986).
Culms (25-)75-200(-450) cm high, erect from a shortly pubescent base or geniculately ascending and rooting at the lower nodes, slender to robust, branched or simple, glabrous to hispid or pilose, the lower nodes glabrous or bearded with soft, spreading hairs. Leaf blades linear to narrowly lanceolate, (6-)12-40(-100) cm long, (4-)12-35 mm wide, narrowed or straight at the base, flat membranous or herbaceous, glabrous or sparsely pilose to pubescent, acuminate (after Clayton et al., 1974).
M. maximus has terminal, ovoid racemose panicles, 15-65 cm long, with brick-red spikelets when mature; spikelets roughly 3.5 mm long (Alves and Xavier, 1986).
Panicle oblong or pyramidal, 12-45(-60) cm long, usually much branched, the branches ascending to spreading, the lowest arranged in a whorl; pedicels and secondary branches fine and flexuous to fairly stiff and contracted. Spikelets oblong, (2.5-)3-4.5(-5) mm long, rounded on the back, glabrous or pubescent, blunt or acute, occasionally overtopped by long hairs from the tip of the pedicel; lower glume broadly ovate, one-third to one-half the length of the spikelet, 3-nerved, obtuse or acute; upper glume ovate-oblong, 5-nerved, acute; lower lemma ovate-oblong, 5-nerved; male rarely sterile, its palea well developed; upper lemma and palea conspicuously transversely rugose (after Clayton et al., 1974). The ligule is membranous with a ciliate margin, 1-3 mm long (Wagner et al., 1999).
[Note: Figures indicate normal range of sizes; those in brackets indicate the extremes of variation possible.]
Plant TypeTop of page
Grass / sedge
DistributionTop of page
M. maximus is native to Africa but has been widely introduced to other regions as a pasture forage crop and is now pantropical in distribution. It is cultivated as a forage grass in the USA around the Gulf of Mexico, especially Florida, and throughout tropical South America where it grows as an escaped species in fields and waste areas (Hitchcock and Chase, 1910). In the USA, it is used primarily for pasture in Hawaii and the Pacific Basin and used to limited extent for pasture and silage in Florida and parts of southern Texas and California (Alderson and Sharp, 1993). It is also found in the tropical parts of the Old World, including Israel (Oren, 1988), throughout sub-Saharan Africa (Gibbs Russel et al., 1955) and in Indonesia (Galinato et al., 1999), India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam (Moody, 1989), elsewhere in Asia (Holm et al., 1979), throughout the Pacific Islands (PIER, 2004) and in the Lesser Antilles (Fournet and Hammerton, 1991).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 25 Feb 2021
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Central African Republic||Present||Native|
|Congo, Democratic Republic of the||Present||Native|
|Congo, Republic of the||Present||Native|
|Zambia||Present||Native||Original citation: Vernon (1983)|
|British Indian Ocean Territory|
|China||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|India||Present||Introduced||First reported: before 1800|
|United Arab Emirates||Present||Introduced|
|Portugal||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Spain||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
|Antigua and Barbuda||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba|
|-Sint Eustatius||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|British Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Guana and Virgin Gorda|
|Dominican Republic||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Weed|
|Netherlands Antilles||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|Puerto Rico||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive||Weed. Also invasive on Mona Island|
|Saint Kitts and Nevis||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|Saint Lucia||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Invasive|
|Saint Vincent and the Grenadines||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|Sint Maarten||Present, Widespread||Introduced|
|Trinidad and Tobago||Present||Introduced|
|Turks and Caicos Islands||Present||Introduced|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Present||Introduced||Invasive||Weed|
|-New South Wales||Present|
|Federated States of Micronesia||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Present||Introduced|
|Papua New Guinea||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Wallis and Futuna||Present||Introduced|
|-Fernando de Noronha||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Mato Grosso do Sul||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Rio de Janeiro||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Rio Grande do Norte||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|-Rio Grande do Sul||Present||Introduced||Invasive|
|Chile||Present||Present based on regional distribution.|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
M. maximus has been found as a contaminant in seeds of cover crops in Malaysia (Zakaria and Nair, 1985) and of rice in the Philippines (Elliot et al., 1993). It was introduced into Tonga as seeds in imported chaff (Churchward, 1959).
M. maximus is already widely introduced beyond its natural range and is a pantropical fodder species and weed. The main danger remains those Pacific Ocean Islands where it is not currently found and where introduction could have a serious impact on natural vegetation. Conflict exists between farmers who wish to exploit the grass in pasture land, and conservationists who are concerned with impacts on biodiversity. These concerns already exist in Queensland, Australia.
HabitatTop of page
M. maximus grows well on a wide variety of well-drained soils and, although drought resistant, it will not withstand long periods of severe desiccation (Holm et al., 1977). It prefers light-textured soils, preferably sandy loams or loams, and does not tolerate heavy clays (Bogdan, 1977). In heavy soils, initial development is slow and leaf area is small (Alves and Xavier, 1986). It does not thrive in areas subject to prolonged waterlogging or flooding, nor on saline soils. It occurs naturally in areas receiving 750-1700 mm rainfall per year and that have a dry season not exceeding 4 months. It is found in a great many locations, mainly upland; it is not found in permanently flooded or waterlogged regions, although it will withstand waterlogging for short periods (Holm et al., 1977). In Australia, it survived 5-10 days of flooding when 90-100% submerged but no plants survived 20 days of flooding (Anderson, 1970). It does not tolerate more than an occasional light frost. It grows naturally in open grasslands, usually forming colonies under or near trees and shrubs, frequent in woodland bush thickets, and on abandoned cultivated land, fields and on waste lands, from sea level to 1800 m in East Africa (IUCN, 2004). It tolerates shade and can be grown in tree plantations (Bogdan, 1977) and is reported to grow well under mango trees in India (Narayanan and Dabadghao, 1972) and rubber in Malaysia (Ng et al., 1997).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial||Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Disturbed areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Managed||Rail / roadsides||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural forests||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Terrestrial||Natural / Semi-natural||Riverbanks||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Coastal areas||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Littoral||Salt marshes||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
|Agave sisalana (sisal hemp)||Agavaceae||Other|
|Ananas comosus (pineapple)||Bromeliaceae||Other|
|Arachis hypogaea (groundnut)||Fabaceae||Other|
|Cocos nucifera (coconut)||Arecaceae||Other|
|Elaeis guineensis (African oil palm)||Arecaceae||Other|
|Musa x paradisiaca (plantain)||Musaceae||Other|
|Oryza sativa (rice)||Poaceae||Other|
|Persea americana (avocado)||Lauraceae||Wild host|
|Saccharum officinarum (sugarcane)||Poaceae||Main|
|Solanum lycopersicum (tomato)||Solanaceae||Other|
|Theobroma cacao (cocoa)||Malvaceae||Other|
|Zea mays (maize)||Poaceae||Main|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
M. maximus is a C4 plant with biochemical subtype PCK. The majority of plants are tetraploids, normally allotetraploids, with 2n = 32 although hexaploids (2n = 48) occur fairly frequently (Bogdan, 1977). Other chromosome numbers reported are 2n = 16, 18, 28, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42 (Wagner et al., 1999). It is a very variable species with innumerable distinct types occurring naturally, especially in East Africa (Bogdan, 1977). Different botanical types have been described in Australia, Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the coastal states around the Gulf of Mexico in the USA.
Phenology and Physiology
M. maximus is a tufted species that spreads to a limited extent by short rhizomes or by rooting at the nodes (Alves and Xavier, 1986). It can grow erect to 1-2 m or the growth may be shortly creeping, with the plant 50 cm high. It grows better if there is good rainfall (>1000 mm per year) but high rainfall is not essential for good growth. It is found on sandy, fertile, well-drained soils (Alves and Xavier, 1986). The plant can flower all year round, depending on the climate; seeds are formed apomictically.
It seeds readily but the heads ripen very unevenly and shatter early. In the Philippines, 9000 seeds have been counted from one plant. Fresh seeds have some initial dormancy; germination is greater after 6 months dry storage (Holm et al., 1977). Seeds can germinate from a greater depth than those of other tropical grasses and when the soil was periodically moistened to a depth of 2-3 cm, the best emergence was observed from 2.5-3 cm (Bogdan, 1964). Germination and emergence are slow and uneven (Bogdan, 1977).
Adkins et al. (2000) found, in a laboratory experiment, that when soil was treated with aerosol smoke produced from burning native vegetation, germination of three introduced weed species, Melinis minutiflora, M. maximus and Verbena officinalis were stimulated by smoke. These observations are discussed in the light that smoke may play an important ecological role in the management and control of introduced weeds in native and arable communities in Australia.
Mycorrhizas enhance growth and phosphorus uptake of M. maximus (Roos and Allsopp, 1997).
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||18||27|
|Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC)||27||31|
|Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC)||6||24|
RainfallTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit||Description|
|Dry season duration||0||7||number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall|
|Mean annual rainfall||820||2200||mm; lower/upper limits|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- very acid
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
M. maximus is recorded as an alternative host of many insect pests and diseases of cereal crops and sugarcane but no surveys have been made to determine whether there are specific natural enemies which might be potential biological control agents. However, recent work on other weedy grasses in the tropics suggests that host-specific pathogens may exist.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
M. maximus spreads mainly by seed and only slowly by vegetative means (Holm et al., 1977). It can be established either by seed or vegetatively from cuttings of roots or rhizomes (Lazarides, 1980). In commercial pastures, it is sometimes propagated by crown divisions (Holm et al., 1977).
M. maximus has become widely naturalized in the tropics and warm temperate regions following introductions for use as a pasture species. Local movement can occur in contaminated soil on agricultural equipment.
Plant TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||Pest or symptoms not visible to the naked eye but usually visible under light microscope|
|Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Fruits (inc. pods)|
|Growing medium accompanying plants|
|Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches|
Wood PackagingTop of page
|Wood Packaging not known to carry the pest in trade/transport|
|Loose wood packing material|
|Processed or treated wood|
|Solid wood packing material with bark|
|Solid wood packing material without bark|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
Economic ImpactTop of page
M. maximus is an important weed of tropical cereals in Africa, America and Asia (Baker and Terry, 1991). It is able to flourish in several crops that are grown under widely varying conditions. In Brazil, it is one of the most aggressive invaders of annual and perennial crops, including sugarcane, coffee, citrus and other fruit orchards (Alves and Xavier, 1986).
It was reported by Holm et al. (1977) as most troublesome in sugarcane where it is ranked No. 1 in Cuba and Hawaii and No. 3 in South Africa. It is a principal weed of sugarcane in Australia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique and Taiwan (Holm et al., 1977). Valle et al. (2000) reported that M. maximus was the second most abundant weed in sugarcane in Venezuela during the rainy season (October-November) of 1998. Yield losses in sugarcane as a result of weed infestation, with M. maximus as a major weed, range from 20 to 60% depending on the specific growing method and conditions (Cepero and Rodriguez, 1983).
It is a serious weed of cotton (Uganda) and a principal weed in bananas (Costa Rica), citrus (Swaziland, Jamaica, USA), cocoa (Ecuador, Venezuela), coconuts (Trinidad, Venezuela), coffee (Costa Rica), cotton (Mozambique, Colombia), cowpeas (Nigeria), groundnuts (Trinidad, Colombia), maize (Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria), oil palms (Costa Rica, Colombia), pineapples (Philippines), rice (Mexico, Nigeria) and sisal (Mozambique, Uganda) (Holm et al., 1977).
It is a weed of upland rice in Brazil (Burga and Tozani, 1980). It is also a problem in new eucalyptus plantations in Brazil (Couto et al., 1994), in the establishment of grazing land in Mexico (Ayala et al., 1993) and in citrus orchards in Brazil (Durigan, 1992). The growth cycle of cassava, coupled with the shortened periods of bush fallow in most parts of the tropics, encourages the growth of perennial grasses such as Andropogon, M. maximus and Pennisetum (Akobundu, 1987).
M. maximus is also a pest in non-crop situations in Australia (Swain and Johnston, 1984). Batianoff and Franks (1998) reported that it was one of the most invasive seashore weeds along the subtropical south-east coast of Queensland, Australia. It grows so quickly that it smothers seedlings of native plants and produces high fuel loads for fires resulting in the deterioration of fire-sensitive communities (Calvert, 1998). After a fire, M. maximus regenerates rapidly from underground rhizomes.
Brandon et al. (1997) reported that growth of Leucaena leucocephala was reduced by 50% in the presence of M. maximus as a result of competition for N and P.
M. maximus is reported to be cyanogenetic at certain periods and is suspected of causing harmful disorders in sheep and horses (Lazarides, 1980).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
M. maximus can suppress or displace local plants on fertile soils in pastures. As it is resistant to drought it builds up a dangerous mass of plant material so that when fires occur there can be extensive damage to the native flora. The grass is tolerant of fire and can dominate the ground after a fire. On the other hand, M. maximus can play a positive role in habitat enhancement. In South-East Asia seeds provide food for birds such as Munias, and the long leaves provide nesting material for birds like the Baya Weaver (Ploceus philippinus). They also provide shelter for smaller creatures to hide in. It is also considered as a suitable plant to stop soil erosion on slopes as it has dense root mats (Anon., 2004).
M. maximus grows on a wide range of soil types, forming dense tussocks. It displaces natural grasslands and other vegetation, thereby reducing native plant species richness (Weber, 2003). It is considered to be the most troublesome invasive grass in Tonga. It forms dense stands up to 2 m tall to outcompete native species (ISSG, 2004). Around Townsville (Queensland, Australia) it is a particular problem close to rivers and on flood plains although it is a valuable feed for stock in the area. Apart from the fact that it grows so quickly it smothers any seedlings of native plants, is the fact that it produces high fuel loads for fires. Before the arrival of Europeans, riverside or riparian vegetation would have contained a large number of fire sensitive, semi-rainforest species and the occurrence of fires along riverbanks would have been rare. M. maximus now provides the fuel to carry fire into the heart of such sensitive communities and this is a leading cause of habitat deterioration (Calvert, 1998).
M. maximus has higher maximum photosynthetic rates than native species in Hawaii, making it competitive (Ammondt and Litton, 2012). High native functional diversity may assist in its control when restoring degraded grasslands.
M. maximus on Mona Island (Puerto Rico) is associated with negative impacts on the demography of the endangered Caribbean cactus Harrisia portoricensis. The survival, growth, and reproduction of Harrisia plants were depressed under the presence of Megathyrsus. Growth and survival of seedlings and juveniles of Harrisia were more impacted by the presence of Megathyrsus than adult performance, and seedling recruitment only occurred in areas with grass absence (Rojas-Sandoval and Melendez-Ackerman, 2012).
Threatened SpeciesTop of page
|Threatened Species||Conservation Status||Where Threatened||Mechanism||References||Notes|
|Cyclura lewisi (Cayman Island ground iguana)||EN (IUCN red list: Endangered)||Cayman Islands||Competition; Competition - monopolizing resources; Rapid growth||Varnham (2006)|
|Harrisia portoricensis (higo chumbo)||USA ESA listing as threatened species||Puerto Rico||Allelopathic; Competition - monopolizing resources||Rojas-Sandoval and Meléndez-Ackerman (2012)|
|Hylaeus assimulans (assimulans yellow-faced bee)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2014a)|
|Hylaeus facilis (easy yellow-faced bee)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2014b)|
|Hylaeus hilaris (hilaris yellow-faced bee)||USA ESA species proposed for listing||Hawaii||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2014c)|
|Hylaeus kuakea (Hawaiian yellow-faced bee)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2014d)|
|Hylaeus longiceps||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2014e)|
|Hylaeus mana||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2014f)|
|Lyonia truncata var. proctorii (Proctor's staggerbush)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Puerto Rico||Competition - strangling||US Fish and Wildlife Service (1994)|
|Nototrichium humile (kaala rockwort)||EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - strangling||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2008)|
|Peucedanum sandwicense (makou)||NatureServe; USA ESA listing as threatened species||Hawaii||Competition (unspecified)||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2011a)|
|Phyllostegia glabra var. lanaiensis (ulihi phyllostegia)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service (1995)|
|Schiedea hookeri (sprawling schiedea)||CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - monopolizing resources; Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2011b)|
|Schiedea kealiae (Waianae Range schiedea)||CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2010a)|
|Schiedea nuttallii||CR (IUCN red list: Critically endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2009); US Fish and Wildlife Service (1999)|
|Schiedea spergulina var. leiopoda||National list(s); USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2010b)|
|Silene lanceolata (Kauai catchfly)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - monopolizing resources||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2010c)|
|Tetramolopium filiforme (ridgetop tetramolopium)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - strangling||US Fish and Wildlife Service (2010d)|
|Tetramolopium remyi (Awalua Ridge tetramolopium)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition - strangling||US Fish and Wildlife Service (1995)|
|Viola lanaiensis (Hawaii violet)||USA ESA listing as endangered species||Hawaii||Competition (unspecified); Ecosystem change / habitat alteration||US Fish and Wildlife Service (1995)|
Social ImpactTop of page
Koh et al. (1997) demonstrated the existence of allergic contact dermatitis from M. maximus in 5 out of 46 patients with a history of grass intolerance.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Highly mobile locally
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts human health
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Threat to/ loss of endangered species
- Threat to/ loss of native species
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - strangling
- Competition (unspecified)
- Pest and disease transmission
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
M. maximus has economic importance as a major forage grass, which is cultivated and grown throughout the tropics. It is a hardy, vigorous plant producing high yields of nutritious fodder, which is suitable for grazing or cut as green feed and hay (Lazarides, 1980). Nutritive value declines rapidly with age and it dies if continually grazed close to the ground (Alderson and Sharp, 1993).
It is useful in suppressing nematodes in tobacco (Vernon, 1983; York, 1992), the soyabean cyst nematode (Heterodera glycines) (Valle et al., 1996) and root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne spp.) in coffee (Sistachs et al., 1991), dryland taro (Sipes and Arakaki, 1997) and ginger (Stirling and Nikulin, 1998).
M. maximus can also be useful as mulch (Weeraratna and Asghar, 1992). Schutte and Kotze (1997) reported that mulching with M. maximus, if integrated with fungicidal sprays, improved the control of citrus black spot (caused by Guignardia bidwellii) by up to 10% compared with fungicidal sprays alone. The amount of exportable fruit free from disease was increased by 13-16% using mulching. In Jamaica, mulching with M. maximus conserved moisture, lowered soil temperature, reduced weed growth, increased growth rates, total yields, marketable yields, and mean bulb diameters of Allium cepa. Mulched plots produced 75% more bulbs than unmulched plots (Meitzner and Price, 1996).
In times of famine, people have used the seed as grain (Vernon, 1983). Seeds are also used as feed for caged birds (Anderson, 1996).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Soil improvement
Human food and beverage
- Emergency (famine) food
- Poisonous to mammals
Detection and InspectionTop of page
The appearance of some strains of M. maximus is so like that of sugarcane that they may be unnoticed until they flower (Holm et al., 1977).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
M. maximus can be distinguished by its hairy nodes, hair-fringed ligules, loose spreading panicle and transversely rugose upper lemma (Holm et al., 1977). P. fasciculatum, a widespread weed of tropical America and the Caribbean, differs in having neat racemes of almost sessile spikelets, much less diffuse than M. maximus (Ellis, 1988). Panicum repens, a similar invasive species, differs in being a shorter, rhizomatous grass with a smooth second floret (Whistler, 1995).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
The choice of weed management methods of M. maximus, as with most weeds in crop situations, depends upon the crop, and the species composition of the weeds that infest it. M. maximus is generally controlled by methods used against perennial grass weeds. For example, cultivation and tillage to expose and kill perennating organs, use of pre-emergence herbicides to prevent new growth, and post-emergence use of translocated herbicides to destroy both aerial and perennating parts of the plant. Finally, individuals that survive these measures may be treated with spot spraying of translocated herbicides, such as glyphosate, before seeds set.
Good soil management is important for good control and management of perennial grass weeds such as M. maximus. Increased soil tillage will prevent perennial grasses reproducing by seed and reduces perennial weed populations (Rojas, 1986).
A review of general principles of perennial grass control by herbicides is given by Dawson (1986) who discusses the application of fluazifop-butyl and sethoxydim when the grass is in the active growth phase and reports that control is better if the rhizomes have been cut by tillage before the crop is established and herbicides applied. If the M. maximus plants are large, then later spot applications of glyphosate may be required.
Many traditional methods of weed control such as hand weeding are no longer suitable for control of M. maximus: as labour costs increase, chemicals are, in many situations, becoming the preferred choice for weed control (Olunuga and Akobundu, 1980; Conklin et al., 1982).
Control of M. maximus during restoration of invaded native plant communities in Hawaii is discussed by Ammondt and Litton (2012) and Ammondt et al. (2013). Cover of M. maximus is reduced by planting native species, and it is suggested that high native functional diversity in an ecological restoration setting may aid in control.
Sugarcane is a perennial grass, and most problem weeds are perennial grasses. Few herbicides are available that selectively control grass weeds without some damage to sugarcane. The best crop tolerance is achieved with applications before sugarcane shoot emergence (Santo et al., 2000).
In Hawaii, perennial weeds are most difficult to control and very competitive to sugarcane, especially those not shaded by the crop canopy, such as tall grasses, shrubs and vines. In order of importance, some problem weeds with high populations in sugarcane fields are M. maximus, Brachiaria planteginea, Chloris inflata, Ipomoea triloba and Momordica charantia. Before tillage or ratooning, perennial weeds, such as M. maximus, are removed chemically with glyphosate or hexazinone, or large stools are removed mechanically with a backhoe because normal tillage and repeated application of glyphosate are ineffective (Santo et al., 2000).
In South Africa, M. maximus in sugarcane was controlled by an application of a mixture of hexazinone and ametryn (Gonggrijp et al., 1982). Trifluralin applied just after the harvest of the previous sugarcane crop, together with spot applications of paraquat, has been found to control M. maximus in following sugarcane crops (Lawrence, 1985). Diaz and Labrada (1994) suggest directed applications of dalapon specifically for control of M. maximus, but also note that this weed is not controlled by asulam. Dario et al. (1997) reported that flazasulfuron was highly efficient in controlling M. maximus in sugarcane when applied pre- or post-emergence.
In Brazil, good control of M. maximus in sugarcane was obtained from 1.92 kg/ha of S-metolachlor, with no visible injury to the sugarcane plants (Correia et al., 2012). When sugarcane crop residues were on the crop surface, a lower rate of 1.44 kg/ha gave a similar level of control.
McCarthy et al. (2010) assess the potential of machine vision for detecting M. maximus to allow spot spraying in sugarcane crops. The system operated effectively at night for mature weed plants, but was less effective in daytime and and other growth stages.
Hand weeding during the critical period for crop growth gave good control of M. maximus in yams (Unamma and Melifonwu, 1988).
Dawson (1986) suggests application of fluazifop-butyl or sethoxydim post-emergence (applied when the grass is in the active growth phase) for control of M. maximus in cotton and soyabeans. Fenoxaprop is also used against perennial grass weeds (including M. maximus) in broadleaved crops.
Fluazifop-butyl is also used to control M. maximus in the cultivation of citrus in Florida, USA (Megh Singh et al., 1985). In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a combination of mechanical cultivation, with two applications of sulfosate or glyphosate at low doses controlled M. maximus when it was present in a low stand in orange (Citrus sinensis) (Foloni and Silva, 1997).
Carvalho et al. (1999a) obtained good control of M. maximus in cotton in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when the following treatments were applied as direct jets to the weeds: flumioxazin + diuron; glufosinate + diuron; clomazone + MSMA; clomazone + cyanazine; clomazone + ametryn; and clomazone + ametryn + diuron.
A review of control of M. maximus in palm plantations suggests that mechanical control should precede chemical treatment. Applications of glyphosate or dalapon are suggested for the control of M. maximus (Quencez and Dufour, 1982).
In upland rice in Nigeria, chemical weed control with piperophos and propanil gave the best yields in field trials (Enyinnia, 1992). In Cuba, application of glyphosate before sowing increased the yield of maize fields by 50% in comparison with traditional methods of controlling weeds (Conklin et al., 1982). In Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil, atrazine plus metolachlor, alone, and with nicosulfuron were selective for maize cultivar Agroceres 1043 and gave 91.8-100% control of the dominant weeds, including M. maximus (Carvalho et al., 1999b).
Halosulfuron-methyl was effective in controlling weeds, including M. maximus, in tomatoes. Mixing halosulfuron-methyl with acetochlor resulted in phytotoxicity and a reduction in tomato plant fresh weight (Finol et al., 1999). In Kenya, M. maximus was only partially controlled in tomato with metribuzin but it was controlled by application of 4 t/ha of mulch before weed emergence (Mwangi, 1999).
Little (1999) established a trial in 1990 to assess the impact of a cowpea cover crop on Eucalyptus and weed growth at Fairbreeze in Zululand, South Africa, in an area previously used for sugarcane production, with an initial predominance of the weed Cyperus esculentus, which was later superseded by M. maximus. Tree growth measurements were determined at felling at 7 years old. Best tree growth was in the weed-free treatment, and poorest growth in the weedy treatment. However, there were no significant differences between the weed-free treatment and the cowpea treatments + herbicide (the preemergence herbicide metolachlor + the contact herbicide paraquat + Agriseel sticker), and between the weedy treatment and the cowpea treatments without herbicide.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a study was conducted to evaluate the effect of different methods of site cleaning and soil preparation on the growth of typical Atlantic forest species and the efficiency of different methods of weed control from planting to canopy closure. In all treatments where weed control was achieved with herbicide (glyphosate), the occurrence of M. maximus (a common species in the area), was very restricted. Tree growth rates were increased and the understorey had a more diverse composition of weed species, with a predominance of broadleaved weeds. The opposite results were observed when weed control was manual or mechanical. The largest differences between the best and poorest treatments were for root collar diameter and crown projection diameter. Considering tree growth response together with the operational costs of establishment and maintenance, the best treatment was that in which weeds were controlled with herbicide on interrows and soil preparation was restricted to the planting rows (Goncalves et al., 1999).
Drechslera gigantea, Exserohilum rostratum, and E. longirostratum were highly effective in controlling M. maximus. A 'cocktail' of these fungi, applied in an emulsion was the most effective treatment compared to each pathogen alone or all pathogens applied with water or Metamucil as carriers (Chandramohan et al., 1999).
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ContributorsTop of page
09/09/13 Updated by:
Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA
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