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
  • 22 November 2019
  • 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 agricultural and environmental w...

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

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

  • Africa: 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

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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.

Last updated: 10 Feb 2022
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes

Africa

AlgeriaPresentNative
AngolaPresentNative
BeninPresentNative
Burkina FasoPresentNative
CameroonPresentNativeWeed (Randall, 2012)
Central African RepublicPresentNativeWeed (Randall, 2012)
ChadPresentNative
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentNative
Congo, Republic of thePresentNativeInvasive
Côte d'IvoirePresentNative
EgyptPresent
Equatorial GuineaPresentNative
EswatiniPresentIntroduced
EthiopiaPresentNative
GabonPresentNative
GambiaPresentNative
GhanaPresentNative
Guinea-BissauPresentNative
KenyaPresentNative
LiberiaPresentNative
MadagascarPresentIntroduced
MalawiPresentNative
MaliPresentNative
MauritiusPresentIntroduced
-RodriguesPresentIntroducedInvasive
MoroccoPresentIntroduced
MozambiquePresentNative
NigeriaPresentNativeInvasiveWeed in tree crops (Komolafe, 1976)
RéunionPresentIntroducedInvasive
RwandaPresentNative
Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced
SenegalPresentIntroduced
Seychelles
-Aldabra IslandsPresentNative
Sierra LeonePresentNative
South AfricaPresentIntroducedInvasive
TanzaniaPresentNative
TogoPresentNative
UgandaPresentNative
ZambiaPresentNative
ZimbabwePresentNative

Asia

BangladeshPresentIntroduced
BhutanPresentIntroduced1970
CambodiaPresentIntroduced
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
Hong KongPresentIntroducedInvasive
IndiaPresent
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresent
-Arunachal PradeshPresentIntroducedInvasive
-AssamPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Himachal PradeshPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Jammu and KashmirPresentIntroducedInvasive
-ManipurPresentIntroducedInvasive
-MeghalayaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-NagalandPresentIntroducedInvasive
-OdishaPresent
-SikkimPresentIntroducedInvasive
-TripuraPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Uttar PradeshPresentIntroducedInvasive
-UttarakhandPresentIntroducedInvasive
-West BengalPresentIntroducedInvasive
IndonesiaPresentIntroducedInvasiveWeed (Holm et al., 1977)
JapanPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Ryukyu IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
LaosPresentIntroduced
MalaysiaPresent
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentIntroducedInvasiveWeed (Holm et al., 1977)
MyanmarPresentIntroducedListed as agricultural weed (Randall, 2012)
OmanPresentIntroduced
PhilippinesPresentIntroducedInvasive
Saudi ArabiaPresentIntroduced
SingaporePresentIntroduced1961
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced
TaiwanPresentIntroducedInvasive
ThailandPresentIntroducedInvasiveWeed (Holm et al., 1977)
VietnamPresentIntroducedInvasive
Yemen
-SocotraPresentIntroducedFirst reported: <1978

Europe

CyprusPresentIntroducedInvasive
PortugalPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-MadeiraPresentIntroducedInvasive
SpainPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Canary IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive

North America

Antigua and BarbudaPresent, WidespreadIntroduced
BahamasPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasive
BarbadosPresent, WidespreadIntroduced
BelizePresentIntroduced
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedInvasive
CubaPresentIntroducedInvasive
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced
El SalvadorPresentIntroducedInvasive
GrenadaPresent, WidespreadIntroducedInvasive
GuatemalaPresentIntroduced
HaitiPresentIntroduced
HondurasPresentIntroducedInvasive
JamaicaPresentIntroducedInvasive
MexicoPresentIntroducedInvasive
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroducedBonaire
NicaraguaPresentIntroduced
PanamaPresentIntroduced
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedInvasive
Saint LuciaPresent, WidespreadIntroduced
U.S. Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedSt Croix
United StatesPresent
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced1913
-FloridaPresentIntroduced1913InvasiveInvasive category I
-HawaiiPresentIntroducedInvasive
-TexasPresentIntroduced1913

Oceania

American SamoaPresentIntroducedInvasive
AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-New South WalesPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Northern TerritoryPresentIntroducedInvasive
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedInvasive
Cook IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasiveOriginal citation: Space and Flynn (2002)
Federated States of MicronesiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
FijiPresentIntroducedInvasive
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
GuamPresentIntroducedInvasive
KiribatiPresentIntroducedInvasive
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
New CaledoniaPresentIntroducedInvasive
New ZealandPresentIntroducedInvasive
NiuePresentIntroducedInvasiveOriginal citation: Space et al. (2004)
Norfolk IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
PalauPresentIntroducedInvasive
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedInvasive
SamoaPresentIntroducedInvasive
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
TokelauPresentIntroduced
VanuatuPresentIntroduced
Wallis and FutunaPresentIntroducedInvasive

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroduced
BoliviaPresentIntroduced
BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AmapaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedInvasive
-BahiaPresent
-CearaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroducedInvasive
-GoiasPresentIntroducedInvasive
-MaranhaoPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedInvasive
-ParanaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedInvasive
ChilePresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Easter IslandPresentIntroducedInvasive
ColombiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
EcuadorPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Galapagos IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
French GuianaPresentIntroduced
GuyanaPresentIntroduced
ParaguayPresentIntroducedInvasive
PeruPresentIntroducedInvasive
SurinamePresentIntroduced
UruguayPresentIntroduced
VenezuelaPresentIntroduced

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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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedManaged grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural grasslands Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalRiverbanks Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalWetlands Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalScrub / shrublands Present, no further details Natural
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalArid regions Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalArid regions Present, no further details Natural

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContextReferences
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)MalvaceaeMain

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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Bimodal

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 speciesFloridaCompetition - stranglingUS Fish and Wildlife Service (2010)

Risk and Impact Factors

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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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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.

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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Adams CD, 1972. Flowering Plants of Jamaica. University of the West Indies, 267

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Chandra-Sekar K, 2012. Invasive Alien Plants of Indian Himalayan Region- Diversity and Implication. American Journal of Plant Sciences, 3:177-184

Charles Darwin Foundation, 2008. Database inventory of introduced plant species in the rural and urban zones of Galapagos. Database inventory of introduced plant species in the rural and urban zones of Galapagos. Galapagos, Ecuador: Charles Darwin Foundation, unpaginated

Chong KY, Tan HTW, Corlett RT, 2009. A checklist of the total vascular plant flora of Singapore: native, naturalised and cultivated species. Singapore: Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore, 273 pp. http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/pdf/PUBLICATION/LKCNH%20Museum%20Books/LKCNHM%20Books/flora_of_singapore_tc.pdf

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DAISIE, 2013. Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe. DAISIE (online). www.europe-aliens.org

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Fosberg FR, Sachet M-H, Oliver R, 1987. A geographical checklist of the Micronesian monocotyledonae. Micronesia 20: 1-2, 19-129

Foxcroft LC, Richardson DM, Wilson JRU, 2007. Ornamental plants as invasive aliens: problems and solutions in Kruger National Park, South Africa. Environmental Management, 41(1):32-51

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Lorence DH, Flynn T, 2010. Checklist of the plants of Kosrae. Unpublished checklist. National Tropical Botanical Garden. Lawai, Hawaii: National Tropical Botanical Garden, 26

MacKee HS, 1994. Catalogue of introduced and cultivated plants in New Caledonia. (Catalogue des plantes introduites et cultivées en Nouvelle-Calédonie.) Paris, France: Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, unpaginated

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PIER, 2013. Pacific Islands Ecosystems at Risk. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: HEAR, University of Hawaii. http://www.hear.org/pier/index.html

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Distribution References

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Chandra-Sekar K, 2012. Invasive Alien Plants of Indian Himalayan Region- Diversity and Implication. In: American Journal of Plant Sciences, 3 177-184.

Charles Darwin Foundation, 2008. Database inventory of introduced plant species in the rural and urban zones of Galapagos. In: Database inventory of introduced plant species in the rural and urban zones of Galapagos, Galapagos, Ecuador: Charles Darwin Foundation. unpaginated.

Chong KY, Tan HTW, Corlett RT, 2009. A checklist of the total vascular plant flora of Singapore: native, naturalised and cultivated species., Singapore, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore. 273 pp. http://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/nus/pdf/PUBLICATION/LKCNH%20Museum%20Books/LKCNHM%20Books/flora_of_singapore_tc.pdf

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Edgar E, Connor HE, 2000. Flora of New Zealand., V Lincoln, New Zealand: Manaaki Whenua Press. 650 pp.

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Fosberg FR, Sachet M-H, Oliver R, 1987. A geographical checklist of the Micronesian monocotyledonae. In: Micronesia, 20 1-2, 19-129.

Foxcroft LC, Richardson DM, Wilson JRU, 2007. Ornamental plants as invasive aliens: problems and solutions in Kruger National Park, South Africa. In: Environmental Management, 41 (1) 32-51.

González-Torres LR, Rankin R, Palmarola A, 2012. Invasive plants in Cuba. (Plantas Invasoras en Cuba). In: Bissea: Boletin sobre Conservacion de Plantad del Jardin Botanico Nacional, 6 [ed. by González-Torres LR, Rankin R, Palmarola A]. 1-140.

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Space JC, Imada CT, 2004. Report to the Republic of Kiribati on invasive plant species on the islands of Tarawa, Abemama, Butaritari and Maiana., Honolulu, Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service and Bishop Museum. 103 pp.

Space JC, Lorence DH, LaRosa AM, 2009. Report to the Republic of Palau: 2008 update on Invasive Plant Species., Hilo, Hawaii, USA: USDA Forest Service. 227. http://www.sprep.org/att/irc/ecopies/countries/palau/48.pdf

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Wagner W L, Herbst D R, Sohmer S H, 1999. Manual of the flowering plants of Hawai'i, Vols. 1 & 2. Honolulu, USA: University of Hawai'i Press/Bishop Museum Press. 1918 + [1] pp.

Waterhouse D F, 1993. The major arthropod pests and weeds of agriculture in Southeast Asia. Canberra, Australia: ACIAR. v + 141 pp.

Waterhouse D F, 1997. The major invertebrate pests and weeds of agriculture and plantation forestry in the southern and western Pacific. In: The major invertebrate pests and weeds of agriculture and plantation forestry in the southern and western Pacific. Canberra, Australia: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). vi + 93 pp.

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Wu TL, 2001. Check List of Hong Kong Plants. In: Hong Kong Herbarium and the South China Institute of Botany. Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department Bulletin 1 (revised), 384 pp. http://www.hkflora.com/v2/flora/plant_check_list.php

Links to Websites

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WebsiteURLComment
Flora of the West Indieshttp://botany.si.edu/antilles/WestIndies/
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gatewayhttps://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.m93f6Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS)http://griis.org/Data source for updated system data added to species habitat list.
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

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