Pennisetum macrourum (African feather grass)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Host Plants and Other Plants Affected
- Growth Stages
- Biology and Ecology
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Plant Trade
- Impact Summary
- Impact: Biodiversity
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
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
- PESMA (Pennisetum macrourum)
Summary of InvasivenessTop 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 TreeTop 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 NomenclatureTop 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.
DescriptionTop 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 TypeTop of page Grass / sedge
DistributionTop 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 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.
Risk of IntroductionTop 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).
HabitatTop 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 ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / 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-natural||Natural grasslands||Present, no further details||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Riverbanks||Present, no further details|
|Wetlands||Present, no further details|
Host Plants and Other Plants AffectedTop of page
|Medicago sativa (lucerne)||Fabaceae||Main|
Growth StagesTop of page Vegetative growing stage
Biology and EcologyTop 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).
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.
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 DispersalTop 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 TradeTop of page
|Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transport||Pest stages||Borne internally||Borne externally||Visibility of pest or symptoms|
|Fruits (inc. pods)||seeds|
|Growing medium accompanying plants||roots; seeds|
|Seedlings/Micropropagated plants||whole plants|
|True seeds (inc. grain)||seeds|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Fisheries / aquaculture||None|
ImpactTop 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: BiodiversityTop of page In New Zealand, P. macrourum has become so aggressive it is able to displace most other species (Hartley, 1973).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
- Has high reproductive potential
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Difficult/costly to control
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop 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 ControlTop of page 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).
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).
ReferencesTop 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. http://www.ebop.govt.nz/.
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. http://www.eppo.int/DATABASES/pqr/pqr.htm
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.
Kadam DE; Birari SP; Patil RC, 1984. Karyotypic studies in Pennisetum species. Journal of Maharashtra Agricultural Universities, 9(3):352-353.
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. https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/taxon/taxonomysearch.aspx
USDA-NRCS, 2003. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5. National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, USA. http://plants.usda.gov.
Distribution MapsTop of page
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