Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Pennisetum purpureum
(elephant grass)

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Datasheet

Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 08 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Natural Enemy
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Pennisetum purpureum
  • Preferred Common Name
  • elephant grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • P. purpureum is a robust perennial grass widely naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. This C4 grass is included in the Global Compendium of Weeds where it is listed as an agri...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit - plant with inflorescences.
TitleHabit
CaptionPennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit - plant with inflorescences.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit - plant with inflorescences.
HabitPennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit - plant with inflorescences.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit and foliage.
TitleHabit and foliage
CaptionPennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit and foliage.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit and foliage.
Habit and foliagePennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); habit and foliage.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Roadside area in Puerto Rico infested by Pennisetum purpureum
TitleHabit
CaptionRoadside area in Puerto Rico infested by Pennisetum purpureum
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Roadside area in Puerto Rico infested by Pennisetum purpureum
HabitRoadside area in Puerto Rico infested by Pennisetum purpureum©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); close-up of inflorescence.
TitleInflorescence
CaptionPennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); close-up of inflorescence.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); close-up of inflorescence.
InflorescencePennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); close-up of inflorescence.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); detail of inflorescence.
TitleInflorescence
CaptionPennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); detail of inflorescence.
Copyright©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez
Pennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); detail of inflorescence.
InflorescencePennisetum purpureum (elephant grass); detail of inflorescence.©Smithsonian Institution/Pedro Acevedo-Rodriguez

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Pennisetum purpureum Schumach

Preferred Common Name

  • elephant grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Cenchrus purpureus (Schumach.) Morrone
  • Gymnotrix nitens Andersson
  • Pennisetum benthamii Steud.
  • Pennisetum benthamii var. nudum Hack.
  • Pennisetum benthamii var. sambesiense Hack.
  • Pennisetum benthamii var. ternatum Hack.
  • Pennisetum blepharideum Gilli
  • Pennisetum flavicomum Leeke
  • Pennisetum flexispica K. Schum
  • Pennisetum gossweileri Stapf & C.E. Hubb.
  • Pennisetum hainanense H.R.Zhao & A.T. Liu
  • Pennisetum lachnorrhachis Peter
  • Pennisetum nitens (Andersson) Hack.
  • Pennisetum pallescens Leeke
  • Pennisetum pruinosum Leeke
  • Pennisetum purpureum subsp. benthamii (Steud.) Maire & Weiller
  • Pennisetum purpureum subsp. flexispica (K.Schum.) Maire & Weiller

International Common Names

  • English: cane grass; elephantgrass; merker grass; napier fodder; napier grass; napiergrass; Uganda grass
  • Spanish: hierba elefante; pasto elefente; pasto Napier; yerba elefante; zacate elefante
  • French: canne fourragère; fausse canne à sucre; Herbe a elephant; herbe éléphant; Sissongo; z'herbe éléphant
  • Chinese: xiang cao
  • Portuguese: capim-elefante

Local Common Names

  • : mfufu
  • Australia: barner grass; cane grass; merker grass
  • Brazil: capim-cameroon; capim-camerron; capim-napier
  • Colombia: elefante; elefante morado
  • Cook Islands: 'erepani
  • Costa Rica: pasto azul; pasto gigante
  • Dominican Republic: árbol del pan; bufala; búfala; yerba merck; yerba mercury
  • Germany: Elefantengras
  • Italy: Erba elefantina; Penniseto rosso
  • Japan: pokao
  • Mexico: gigante; merkerón; zacante gigante
  • Micronesia, Federated states of: acfucsracsracsr
  • Palau: bokso
  • Samoa: vao povi
  • Vietnam: co voi

EPPO code

  • PESPU (Pennisetum purpureum)

Summary of Invasiveness

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P. purpureum is a robust perennial grass widely naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. This C4 grass is included in the Global Compendium of Weeds where it is listed as an agricultural and environmental weed as well as an invasive species (Randall, 2012). P. purpureum is an aggressive grass that grows rapidly, colonizing new areas and forming dense thickets. Once established, it can change features of ecosystem functions by altering fire regimes, hydrology cycles, biophysical dynamics, nutrient cycles, and community composition (D’Antonio and Vitousek, 1992). P. purpureum is well adapted to drought conditions and can also dominate fire-adapted grassland communities (Holm et al., 1979). This species has the capability to resprout easily from small rhizomes left after disturbance, resulting in the out-competing and smothering of native plant communities (Holm et al., 1979; D’Antonio and Vitousek, 1992; Langeland et al., 2008). P. purpureum is considered one of the most successful invasive grasses in the world.

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The genus Pennisetum is included in the subfamily Panicoideae of the Poaceae family. This is a large and variable genus, but the bristly, spike-like inflorescence is always readily recognizable. The only other panicoid genus with a similar bristly inflorescence is Setaria, but in that genus the bristles are not deciduous with the spikelets, instead remaining on the rachis at maturity. The bristles are derived from reduced panicle branches (Gould and Shaw, 1983; Gibson, 2009). The common name of elephant grass reflects it making up the bulk of the diet of forest elephants in West Africa (Francis, 1992).

Description

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Robust perennial grass up to 4 metres tall; grows forming thick clumps or colonies from basal offshoots or short rhizomes. Stems often branched above; internodes more or less bluish glaucous; young nodes with white hairs, later becoming smooth, glabrous. Leaf sheaths glabrous, usually shorter than the internodes; ligule a narrow rim densely fringed with long white hairs. Leaf blades linear to tapering, flat, often bluish green, to 1 m long and 3 cm wide, pilose near the base, especially on margins; blade margins generally rough; midvein stout, whitish above, strongly keeled below. Inflorescence a dense terminal bristly spike, tawny to purple-tinged, to about 20 cm long and 2 cm wide. Spikelets 4-6 mm long, solitary or in clusters of 2-6 on hairy axis, surrounded by sparsely plumose bristles to 2 cm long that fall with the spikelets at maturity; outermost glume minute or absent (Langeland et al., 2008).

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Herbaceous
Perennial
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated

Distribution

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P. purpureum is native to Tropical Africa and the sub-Saharan region (Clayton et al., 2013). It has been widely introduced into tropical and subtropical regions of the Old and New World where it commonly becomes naturalized, and in some cases invasive (see distribution table for details; Duke, 1983; Langeland et al., 2008; FAO, 2013).

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

Asia

BangladeshPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
BhutanPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
CambodiaPresentIntroducedWaterhouse, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2013
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Hong KongPresentIntroduced Invasive Wu, 2001
IndiaPresent
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresent
-Arunachal PradeshPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-AssamPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-Himachal PradeshPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-Jammu and KashmirPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-ManipurPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-MeghalayaPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-NagalandPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-SikkimPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-TripuraPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-Uttar PradeshPresentIntroduced Invasive Khanna, 2009
-UttarakhandPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
-West BengalPresentIntroduced Invasive Chandra-Sekar, 2012
IndonesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2013Weed (Holm et al., 1977)
JapanPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013
LaosPresentIntroducedWaterhouse, 1993; Clayton et al., 2013
MalaysiaPresentWaterhouse, 1993
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013Weed (Holm et al., 1977)
MyanmarPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013Listed as agricultural weed (Randall, 2012)
OmanPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
PhilippinesPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2013
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
SingaporePresentIntroducedWaterhouse, 1993; Chong et al., 2009
Sri LankaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
TaiwanPresentIntroduced Invasive Wu et al., 2004
ThailandPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2013Weed (Holm et al., 1977)
VietnamPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1993; USDA-ARS, 2013

Africa

AldabraPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
AlgeriaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
AngolaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
BeninPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
Burkina FasoPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
CameroonPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013Weed (Randall, 2012)
Central African RepublicPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013Weed (Randall, 2012)
ChadPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
CongoPresentNative Invasive Mbale, 2010
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
Côte d'IvoirePresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
Equatorial GuineaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
EthiopiaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
GabonPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
GambiaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
GhanaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
Guinea-BissauPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
KenyaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
LiberiaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
MadagascarPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
MalawiPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
MaliPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
MauritiusPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
MoroccoPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
MozambiquePresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
NigeriaPresentNative Invasive Clayton et al., 2013Weed in tree crops (Komolafe, 1976)
RéunionPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013
Rodriguez IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013
RwandaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
Saint HelenaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
SenegalPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
Sierra LeonePresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
South AfricaPresentIntroduced Invasive Foxcroft et al., 2007
Spain
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013
SwazilandPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
TanzaniaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
TogoPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
UgandaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
ZambiaPresentNativeClayton et al., 2013
ZimbabwePresentNativeClayton et al., 2013

North America

MexicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Villaseñor and Espinosa-Garcia, 2004
USAPresent
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced1913Clayton et al., 2013
-FloridaPresentIntroduced1913 Invasive Clayton et al., 2013Invasive category I
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Wagner et al., 1999
-TexasPresentIntroduced1913Clayton et al., 2013

Central America and Caribbean

Antigua and BarbudaWidespreadIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
BahamasWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Kairo et al., 2003
BarbadosWidespreadIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
BelizePresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
Costa RicaPresentIntroduced Invasive Chacón and Saborío, 2012
CubaPresentIntroduced Invasive González-Torres et al., 2012
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013
GrenadaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Broome et al., 2007
GuatemalaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
HaitiPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012
HondurasPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013
JamaicaPresentIntroduced Invasive Adams, 1972
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012Bonaire
NicaraguaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
PanamaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
Puerto RicoPresentIntroduced Invasive Kairo et al., 2003
Saint LuciaWidespreadIntroducedBroome et al., 2007
United States Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedAcevedo-Rodríguez and Strong, 2012St Croix

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
BoliviaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AmapaPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-AmazonasPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-CearaPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-GoiasPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-MaranhaoPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-ParanaPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-PernambucoPresentIntroduced Invasive I3N-Brasil, 2013
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroduced Invasive I3N-Brasil, 2013
-Sao PauloPresentIntroduced Invasive Forzza et al., 2012
ChilePresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Easter IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Meyer, 2008
ColombiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Clayton et al., 2013
EcuadorPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Charles Darwin Foundation, 2008
French GuianaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
GuyanaPresentIntroducedClayton et al., 2013
ParaguayPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013
PeruPresentIntroduced Invasive USDA-ARS, 2013
SurinamePresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
UruguayPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedUSDA-ARS, 2013

Europe

CyprusPresentIntroduced Invasive DAISIE, 2013
PortugalPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-MadeiraPresentIntroduced Invasive DAISIE, 2013
SpainPresentPresent based on regional distribution.

Oceania

American SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive Ragone and Lorence, 2003
AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Australian Northern TerritoryPresentIntroduced Invasive Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
-New South WalesPresentIntroduced Invasive Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
-QueenslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroduced Invasive Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Space and Flynn, 2002
FijiPresentIntroduced Invasive Smith, 1979
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Florence et al., 2011
GuamPresentIntroduced Invasive Meyer, 2000
KiribatiPresentIntroduced Invasive Space and Imada, 2004
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Vander, 2003
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroduced Invasive Lorence and Flynn, 2010
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive MacKee, 1994
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive Edgar and Connor, 2000
NiuePresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2004
Norfolk IslandPresentIntroduced Invasive Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Fosberg et al., 1987
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive Space et al., 2009
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroduced Invasive Waterhouse, 1997
SamoaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2013
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Shine et al., 2003
TokelauPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
VanuatuPresentIntroducedPIER, 2013
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Meyer, 2007

History of Introduction and Spread

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P. purpureum has been intentionally introduced as a forage crop in many tropical and subtropical countries (Holm et al., 1979; Francis, 1992; FAO, 2013). It has been the subject of breeding for improved cultivars and hybrids for forage and silage (Tropical Forages, 2013). In the United States, this grass was introduced in 1913. It was established into natural areas of Florida by 1971 (Langeland et al., 2008). In the West Indies, Central and South America, many cultivars were introduced in the early 1950s. For example, the cultivar “Merkeron” was introduced in Puerto Rico in 1955 and in 1962 the cultivar “Capricorn was introduced in Australia (FAO, 2013; Tropical Forages, 2013).  

Risk of Introduction

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The risk of introduction of P. purpureum is very high. This grass has been repeatedly intentionally introduced in tropical and subtropical regions to be used as a forage and silage crop. It has escaped from cultivation into natural areas, where it rapidly colonizes new areas forming dense stands which are very difficult to control (Langeland et al., 2008; Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011).

Habitat

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P. purpureum is a common weed in agricultural fields, pastures, and along roadsides. It also grows in waterways, wetlands, floodplains, riverbanks, swamps, forest edges, disturbed sites, and waste ground especially in mesic to wet sites (Francis, 1992; Wagner et al., 1999; Langeland et al., 2008; Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011). P. purpureum is well-adapted to drought conditions and can be found colonizing arid lowlands (e.g., habitats on Galápagos Islands; McMullen, 1999).

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial-managed
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
Arid regions Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Arid regions Present, no further details Natural
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Scrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Wetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Present, no further details Natural

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
Anacardium occidentale (cashew nut)AnacardiaceaeMain
Ananas comosus (pineapple)BromeliaceaeMain
Camellia sinensis (tea)TheaceaeMain
CitrusRutaceaeMain
Coffea (coffee)RubiaceaeOther
Cola acuminata (cola)SterculiaceaeMain
Elaeis guineensis (African oil palm)ArecaceaeMain
Hevea brasiliensis (rubber)EuphorbiaceaeMain
Musa (banana)MusaceaeMain
Oryza sativa (rice)PoaceaeMain
pasturesMain
Saccharum officinarum (sugarcane)PoaceaeMain
Theobroma cacao (cocoa)SterculiaceaeMain

Biology and Ecology

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Genetics

The chromosome number in P. purpureum is 2n = 27, 28, 56 (Sinha et al., 1990; Vidhya and Khna, 2003; Tropical Forages, 2013). There are numerous ecotypes grown for agriculture in various countries, and a range of commercial cultivars have been bred, including the widely grown cv. Mott bred in Georgia, USA from cv. Merkeron. A number of hybrids with Pennisetum glaucum are also commercially available. Tropical Forages (2013) lists important cultivars and hybrids used for forage and silage production. 

Reproductive Biology

P. purpureum relies on wind to achieve cross-pollination, due to asynchrony of male and female flower parts. However, this is also an apomictic species which can produce seed by this asexual method of reproduction (Brown and Emery, 1958; Stevens, 2012). The species is an inconsistent seed producer and in some habitats it rarely develops seeds, possibly due to low pollen viability (Tropical Forages, 2013). When seeds are produced they are dispersed by wind (Francis, 1992), but are often of low viability. 

Physiology and Phenology

P. purpureum is a fast-growing perennial grass (FAO, 2013). In Florida, P. purpureum produces flowers from July through February (Langeland et al., 2008). In Mexico and Central America, flowering occurs all year long with peaks from December to May (Vibrans, 2009). In South Africa this species flowers from January to June (Tropical Forages, 2013).

As many other C4 grasses, P. purpureum is well adapted to environments with high daytime temperatures, intense sunlight, drought and nitrogen and /or CO2 limitations (Gibson, 2009). It grows during the rainy season, but its deep root system allows it to survive long drought periods. In an agricultural research plot in Puerto Rico, P. purpureum reached the height of 4 metres in just 3 months (Francis, 1992). 

Environmental Requirements

P. purpureum prefers to grow in moist tropical habitats at elevations from sea level to 2000 metres (Francis, 1992; FAO, 2013). It grows best in high-rainfall areas (>1500 mm/year), but its deep root system allows it to survive in dry times and it is reported to tolerates areas with annual precipitation of 200-4000 mm (Duke, 1983). It is well adapted to grow on a wide range of soil types from poorly drained clay soils to excessively drained sandy soils with pH ranging from 4.5 to 8.2, but grows best in rich well-drained soils (Duke, 1983; FAO, 2013; Tropical Forages, 2013). Temperatures for optimum growth should be from 25°C to 40°C, and there is little growth below about 15°C (FAO, 2013). It does not tolerate much frost. It recovers well following fire, and can dominate fire-adapted grassland communities (Tropical Forages, 2013). P. purpureum has the capability to grow in completely open sunlit areas to partially light-shaded areas but does not survive under a closed tree canopy (Francis, 1992; FAO, 2013).

Climate

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ClimateStatusDescriptionRemark
Af - Tropical rainforest climate Preferred > 60mm precipitation per month
Am - Tropical monsoon climate Preferred Tropical monsoon climate ( < 60mm precipitation driest month but > (100 - [total annual precipitation(mm}/25]))
As - Tropical savanna climate with dry summer Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in summer) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
Aw - Tropical wet and dry savanna climate Preferred < 60mm precipitation driest month (in winter) and < (100 - [total annual precipitation{mm}/25])
BS - Steppe climate Tolerated > 430mm and < 860mm annual precipitation
BW - Desert climate Tolerated < 430mm annual precipitation
Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year
Cs - Warm temperate climate with dry summer Tolerated Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry summers
Cw - Warm temperate climate with dry winter Tolerated Warm temperate climate with dry winter (Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, dry winters)

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 25 40
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 11.5

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Mean annual rainfall2004500mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Aphelenchus avenae Pathogen All Stages not specific N
Leptosphaeria sacchari Pathogen All Stages not specific N
Meloidogyne incognita Pathogen All Stages not specific N
Meloidogyne javanica Pathogen All Stages not specific N
Pectobacterium carotovorum Pathogen All Stages not specific N
Phyllosticta Pathogen All Stages not specific N
Pratylenchus brachyurus Pathogen All Stages not specific N

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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P. purpureum reproduces sexually by seeds and also vegetatively by stem fragments, cuttings, and tillers. Seeds are dispersed by the wind, but they can also become attached to animals and vehicles. Seeds may also be spread as a contaminant of agricultural produce (i.e., fodder). Stem fragments and rhizomes may be broken off and dispersed to new locations by humans, wild animals, livestock, vehicles, and/or floodwaters. Seeds and stem fragments can also be spread by the movement of soil (Francis, 1992; Langeland et al., 2008; Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011; FAO, 2013).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal productionP. purpureum is one of the most valuable forage, hay, and silage crops in the wet tropics Yes Yes FAO, 2013
ForageP. purpureum is one of the highest yielding tropical forage grasses Yes Yes FAO, 2013
Habitat restoration and improvementEffective controlling erosion Yes Yes FAO, 2013
Hedges and windbreaksUsed for hedgerows, windbreaks and living fences in horticultural crops and orchards Yes Yes Tropical Forages, 2013
Intentional releaseWidely introduced in wet tropics Yes Yes FAO, 2013

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Debris and waste associated with human activitiesSeed and plant segments Yes Yes Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
Land vehiclesSeed and plant segments attached to vehicles Yes Yes Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
LivestockContaminant in fodder and silage crops Yes Yes Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
Machinery and equipmentSeed and plant segments Yes Yes Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
Soil, sand and gravelSeed and plant segments Yes Yes Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011
WindSeeds Yes Yes Duke, 1983

Impact Summary

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

Environmental Impact

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P. purpureum is an aggressive grass that grows rapidly, colonizing new areas and forming dense thickets. It has the potential to alter fire regimes, hydrology cycles, biophysical dynamics, nutrient cycles, and community composition in invaded habitats (D’Antonio and Vitousek, 1992). P. purpureum is well adapted to drought conditions and can also dominate fire-adapted grassland communities. Consequently, it can completely out-compete native vegetation communities very rapidly. P. purpureum also creates problems in flood-control systems by blocking access to canals, reducing water flows, and overgrowing pump stations (Langeland et al., 2008; Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Linum carteri (Carter's small-flowered flax)USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesFloridaCompetition - stranglingUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 2010

Risk and Impact Factors

Top of page Invasiveness
  • Invasive in its native range
  • 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
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Reproduces asexually
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of fire regime
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Allelopathic
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Competition - shading
  • Competition - smothering
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Rapid growth
  • Rooting
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult/costly to control

Uses

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P. purpureum is one of the most valuable forage and silage crops in its native Africa and throughout the wet tropics. It is an important forage and pasture grass especially for cattle and it is also cut for hay and fermented for silage (Francis, 1992; FAO, 2013). This grass is also planted as hedgerows for erosion protection and forage production in the alley cropping system of agroforestry (Magcale-Macandog et al., 1998). P. purpureum is also used as a windbreak in horticultural crops and orchards and lines of these plants are used to mark boundaries between plots and properties (FAO, 2013; Tropical Forages, 2013). In Africa, P. purpureum is planted on riverbanks to prevent erosion, and the thick culms are made into fences, screens, and reinforcement for mud huts (Francis, 1992). Plant extracts are used as a diuretic in Africa, and it is also used in a number of other herbal remedies (Francis, 1992).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage

Environmental

  • Agroforestry
  • Boundary, barrier or support
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Soil conservation
  • Windbreak

General

  • Ornamental

Materials

  • Fibre
  • Green manure

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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P. purpureum is similar to Pennisetum polystachion (mission grass), Pennisetum macrourum (African feather grass), Pennisetum pedicellatum (Deenanth grass) and Pennisetum alopecuroides (swamp foxtail). It can usually be distinguished from these species by its perpendicular size, but can also be separated by the following characteristics:

  1. P. purpureum is a very large and robust perennial grass (1-7 m tall) with greenish, yellowish or purplish coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e., rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the bristles below each flower spikelet are relatively long (8-40 mm).
     
  2. P. polystachion is a perennial grass (usually 2-3 m tall) with yellowish or brownish coloured seed-heads. The rachis of the seed-head is angular and the bristles below each flower spikelet are relatively long (4-25 mm long). P. purpureum is distinguished by its yellow or yellowish-brown bristles with or without purple tip, and its softer stem.
     
  3. P. macrourum is a large perennial grass (usually 1-2 m tall) with greenish or yellowish coloured seed-heads. The rachis of the seed-head is rounded and the bristles below each flower spikelet are relatively short (mostly less than 10 mm long).
     
  4. P. pedicellatum is a moderately-sized annual grass (usually 30-150 cm tall) with pale purplish coloured seed-heads. The rachis of the seed-head is angular and the bristles below each flower spikelet are relatively long (6-24 mm long).
     
  5. P. alopecuroides is a moderately-sized perennial grass (usually 60-100 cm tall) with greenish or purplish coloured seed-heads. The rachis of the seed-head is rounded and the bristles below each flower spikelet are relatively long (15-30 mm long). 

P. purpureum is also similar to some Setaria species such as Setaria sphacelata (Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, 2011). In Florida, P. purpureum may be confused with the larger native foxtails (Setaria spp., also called bristle grasses), but their spikelet bristles are persistent on the flowering stalks, not falling with mature spikelets. P. purpureum can be distinguished from other Pennisetum species in Florida by its long leaf blades, sparsely plumose bristles, and minute or absent first glumes (Langeland et al., 2008).

Prevention and Control

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A combination of manual and chemical methods is recommended for the management of large infestations of P. purpureum. In the case of smaller infestations, plants can be cut out and all rhizomes must be removed (Weber, 2003). Larger infestations can be controlled by mowing or burning the foliage and the aboveground segments of the grass. Later any re-sprout should be sprayed with a foliar application of the herbicide 2,2 dichloropropionic acid (2,2 DPA; Weber, 2003). The herbicide glyphosate provides acceptable control in at least aquatic sites (Francis, 1992).

References

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Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
Flora of the West Indieshttp://botany.si.edu/antilles/WestIndies/
GrassBase - The Online World Grass Florahttp://www.kew.org/data/grasses-db/www/imp10752.htm
Tropical Forages: An Interactive Selection Toolhttp://www.tropicalforages.info/
Wildland shrubs of the United States and its territorieshttp://www.fs.fed.us/global/iitf/wildland_shrubs.htm

Contributors

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03/07/13 Original text by:

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

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

Distribution Maps

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