Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Pennisetum macrourum
(African feather grass)



Pennisetum macrourum (African feather grass)


  • Last modified
  • 16 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Pennisetum macrourum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • African feather grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • P. macrourum has demonstrated its ability to invade and displace grassland vegetation in Tasmania and New Zealand (Hartley, 1973...
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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Pennisetum macrourum Trin.

Preferred Common Name

  • African feather grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Pennisetum angolense Rendle
  • Pennisetum giganteum A. Rich.
  • Pennisetum quartinianum A. Rich.

International Common Names

  • English: African feathergrass; bedding grass

EPPO code

  • PESMA (Pennisetum macrourum)

Summary of Invasiveness

Top of page P. macrourum has demonstrated its ability to invade and displace grassland vegetation in Tasmania and New Zealand (Hartley, 1973; Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1976). There is potential for rapid spread by rhizomes within a site and by seed over longer distances. It is particularly invasive in New Zealand where it is a declared noxious species (Anon., 1977). It has also been listed as a noxious weed by the USA and is a quarantine pest for some US states (USDA-ARS).

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Cyperales
  •                         Family: Poaceae
  •                             Genus: Pennisetum
  •                                 Species: Pennisetum macrourum

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page Clayton and Renvoize (1982) list over 20 synonyms and comment that 'The (East African) waterside reeds have been brought together, and treated here as a single polymorphic species. Within it there is a reticulum of local segregates, which intergrade to such an extent that subdivisions can be no more than arbitrary in the absence of firm guidance from ecological and cytological studies.


Top of page P. macrourum is an erect perennial grass, densely tufted but with a rhizome up to 1 m or more (Weber, 2003). Culms up to 2 m tall though usually smaller, glabrous, unbranched, scabrid below the inflorescence. Leaves are strongly ribbed, up to 120 cm long and ca. 13 mm wide, light green above and grey-green below. Leaf sheaths glabrous, or hairy with sharp deciduous hairs causing the plant to be unpleasant to handle. Numerous spikelets are borne in slender spikes of 10-30 cm length. Spikelets subtended by an involucre of scabrid bristles, one longer than others, up to 15 mm long. Spikelets 4-6 mm long, solitary, sessile; lower glume minute or absent, upper glume one quarter to one third as long as the 5-nerved lemmas.

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


Top of page P. macrourum is native to southern and eastern Africa but widely introduced elsewhere, including Australia and New Zealand (Scott and Delfosse, 1992). In addition to the country list, Weber (2003) lists this species as present in northern, southern and eastern Europe (also Mediterranean islands), tropical and southern Africa, temperate and tropical Asia, tropical South America and Caribbean, South Atlantic Islands, Mascarenes and Melanesia.

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


YemenPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003


AngolaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
BotswanaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
CameroonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
Cape VerdePresentWeber, 2003
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
EthiopiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
GabonPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
GuineaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
KenyaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
MadagascarPresentWeber, 2003
MalawiPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
NigeriaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
SeychellesPresentWeber, 2003
SomaliaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
South AfricaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
-Canary IslandsPresentWeber, 2003
SudanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
SwazilandPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
TanzaniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
TogoPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
UgandaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003
ZambiaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2003

North America

CanadaPresentWeber, 2003
MexicoPresentWeber, 2003
-AlaskaPresentWeber, 2003
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedUSDA-NRCS, 2003
-HawaiiPresentWeber, 2003

South America

ArgentinaPresentWeber, 2003
ChilePresentWeber, 2003
-Galapagos IslandsPresentWeber, 2003


FrancePresentWeber, 2003
-AzoresPresentWeber, 2003
-MadeiraPresentWeber, 2003
UKPresentWeber, 2003


Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentWeber, 2003
AustraliaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1979; USDA-ARS, 2003; EPPO, 2014
-South AustraliaPresentCrossman and Weidenbach, 2004
-TasmaniaPresentIntroducedTasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1976
New ZealandRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1979; USDA-ARS, 2003; EPPO, 2014

Risk of Introduction

Top of page It is particularly invasive in New Zealand where it is a declared noxious species (Anon., 1977). It has also been listed as a noxious weed by the USA and is a quarantine pest for some US states (USDA-ARS).


Top of page P. macrourum is mainly a weed of pasture and other grasslands, but is also found in perennial crops such as lucerne. It also grows in roadsides, waste ground and disturbed areas (Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1976). In New Zealand, it grows best in damp situations such as swamps and along the borders of streams, but can tolerate drought and establish on dry shady banks; it prefers light sandy soil (Bay of Plenty Regional Council, 2004).

Habitat List

Top of page
Terrestrial – ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details
Wetlands Present, no further details

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Medicago sativa (lucerne)FabaceaeMain

Growth Stages

Top of page Vegetative growing stage

Biology and Ecology

Top of page Genetics

There are conflicting reports on chromosome number in this species: 2n=36 (Dujardin and Hanna, 1989); 2n=32 (Kadam et al., 1984). Kadam et al. (1984) suggest that P. macrourum is a tetraploid species and that previously reported types with 2n=54 may be of aneuploid origin.

Attempts to cross P. macrourum with diploid and tetraploid pearl millet (P. glaucum) yielded no hybrids (Dujardin and Hanna, 1989).

Physiology and Phenology

According to the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture (1978) no seed dormancy has been detected in this species, although deep burial (80 mm) prevents establishment and buried seed loses viability within 1 month. However, Harradine (1980a) reported that burial at 80 mm depth induced dormancy, but fewer than 7% of seeds were viable after 6 months.

Maximum germination (88%) is achieved at 30°C. Maximum establishment was obtained from seeds buried at a depth of 10 mm. Establishment of surface sown seeds was less than 25% (Harradine, 1980a).

Reproductive Biology

Reproduction is via seeds (Harradine, 1980a) and rhizomes. Four-node rhizome fragments of this species, buried at 15 cm depth, show 57% regeneration (Harradine, 1980b). Strong rhizome growth results in dense mats.

Environmental Requirements

Once established, P. macrourum is relatively drought resistant (Weber, 2003). This species is less tolerant of saline soil than some other cosmopolitan competitors (Lolium spp., Agropyron spp.; Harradine, 1982).

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Top of page Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

Seeds are dispersed by water (Weber, 2003) and wind (Bay of Plenty Regional Council, 2004).

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Barbed bristles on the seed husk assist dispersal in animal hair (Bay of Plenty Regional Council, 2004).

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Bulbs/Tubers/Corms/Rhizomes roots
Flowers/Inflorescences/Cones/Calyx seeds
Fruits (inc. pods) seeds
Growing medium accompanying plants roots; seeds
Roots roots
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants whole plants
True seeds (inc. grain) seeds

Impact Summary

Top of page
Animal/plant collections None
Animal/plant products None
Biodiversity (generally) Negative
Crop production Negative
Environment (generally) Negative
Fisheries / aquaculture None
Forestry production None
Human health None
Livestock production Negative
Native fauna None
Native flora Negative
Rare/protected species None
Tourism None
Trade/international relations None
Transport/travel None


Top of page The evidence suggests that this species is a serious problem in New Zealand but considered less so in Australia, though it is listed by Holm et al. (1979) as a 'principal' weed for that country. It is difficult to eliminate (Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1976).

Impact: Biodiversity

Top of page In New Zealand, P. macrourum has become so aggressive it is able to displace most other species (Hartley, 1973).

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Has high reproductive potential
Impact outcomes
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Reduced native biodiversity
Impact mechanisms
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Difficult/costly to control

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page Smaller plants of P. macrourum may be confused with P. sphacelatum but the culms of the latter are distinctly hairy for some distance below the inflorescence.

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.

Mechanical Control

This species is particularly difficult to control because of the abundance of rhizomes and the ability of rhizomes to regenerate from fragments (Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1976). The grass should be slashed or burnt before seed set (Anon., 1977).

Chemical Control

Good control of established plants is obtained with glyphosate or flupropanate applied during periods of active growth in the spring or autumn (Anon., 1977; Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1977).


Top of page

Anon., 1977. Weeds and weed control. African feather grass (Pennisetum macrourum Trin.) declared noxious weed. Tasmanian Journal of Agriculture, 48(4):241-243.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council, 2004. Pennisetum macrourum fact sheet. Environment Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

Clayton WD; Renvoize SA, 1982. Gramineae (Part 3). In: Polhill RM, ed. Flora of Tropical East Africa. Rotterdam, Netherlands: Balkema.

Crossman ND; Weidenbach M, 2004. The perennial grass weeds workshop questionnaire and mapping exercise. Plant Protection Quarterly [South Australian perennial grass weeds workshop, Glen Osmond, South Australia, 27 February 2004.], 19(2):54-58.

Dujardin M; Hanna WW, 1989. Crossability of pearl millet with wild Pennisetum species. Crop Science, 29(1):77-80.

EPPO, 2014. PQR database. Paris, France: European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization.

Harradine AR, 1980. The biology of African feather grass (Pennisetum macrourum Trin.) in Tasmania. 1. Seedling establishment. Weed Research, 20(3):165-169

Harradine AR, 1982. Effect of salinity on germination and growth of Pennisetum macrourum in southern Tasmania. Journal of Applied Ecology, 19(1):273-282.

Hartley MJ, 1973. Weed grasses in New Zealand pastures. Proceedings of the 4th Asian-Pacific Weed Science Society Conference, Rotorua, 1973:42-48.

Holm LG; Pancho JV; Herberger JP; Plucknett DL, 1979. A geographical atlas of world weeds. New York, USA: John Wiley and Sons, 391 pp.

Kadam DE; Birari SP; Patil RC, 1984. Karyotypic studies in Pennisetum species. Journal of Maharashtra Agricultural Universities, 9(3):352-353.

Scott JK; Delfosse ES, 1992. Southern African plants naturalized in Australia: a review of weed status and biological control potential. Plant Protection Quarterly, 7(2):70-80

Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1976. Annual report 1975-76, No. 85. Tasmania, Australia: Government Printer.

Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1977. Annual report for 1976-77, No. 64. Tasmania, Australia: Government Printer, 88 pp.

Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, 1978. Annual report, 1977-78. No. 84. Tasmania, Australia: Government Printer, 54 pp.

USDA-ARS, 2003. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Online Database. Beltsville, Maryland, USA: National Germplasm Resources Laboratory.

USDA-NRCS, 2003. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, USA.

Weber E, 2003. Invasive plant species of the world: A reference guide to environmental weeds. Wallingford, UK: CAB International, 548 pp.

Links to Websites

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GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

Distribution Maps

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