Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Sorghum halepense
(Johnson grass)



Sorghum halepense (Johnson grass)


  • Last modified
  • 19 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Sorghum halepense
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Johnson grass
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • S. halepense is a perennial grass which can be cultivated for fodder, but is also an extremely invasive weed with a worldwide distribution. Its extensive spreading rhizome and shoot system and high rate of seed...

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Flowering Johnson grass, stems unbranched, 0.5-3.0 m tall.
TitleS. halepense in soyabean crop, USA
CaptionFlowering Johnson grass, stems unbranched, 0.5-3.0 m tall.
Copyright©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK
Flowering Johnson grass, stems unbranched, 0.5-3.0 m tall.
S. halepense in soyabean crop, USAFlowering Johnson grass, stems unbranched, 0.5-3.0 m tall.©Chris Parker/Bristol, UK


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Sorghum halepense (L.) Pers. 1805

Preferred Common Name

  • Johnson grass

Other Scientific Names

  • Andropogon arundinaceus Scop. 1722
  • Andropogon halepensis (L.) Brot. 1804
  • Andropogon miliaceus Roxb. 1820
  • Andropogon miliformis Schult. 1824
  • Andropogon sorghum ssp. halepensis Hack. 1889
  • Blumenbackia halepensis (L.) Koel. 1882
  • Holcus halepensis L. 1753
  • Milium halepense (L.) Cav. 1802
  • Sorghum cicolor ssp. halepense De Wet & Huck.
  • Sorghum giganteum Edgew 1853
  • Sorghum miliaceum (Roxb.) Snowden 1955
  • Sorghum miliaceum var. parvispiculum Snowden 1853

International Common Names

  • English: Aleppo grass; Arabian millet; Egyptian millet; evergreen millet; false guinea; Morocco millet; Syrian grass
  • Spanish: canota; curacaosche; don Carlos; pasto honda; pasto Johnson; sorgho de Aleppo; sorgho maleza; zacate johnson
  • French: sorgho d'Alep
  • Portuguese: capim-argentino; sorgo-bravo; sorgo-de-Alepo

Local Common Names

  • Brazil: arroz bravo; capim argentino; capim avela; capim cevada; capim de cuba; capim massabara; capim mexicano; sorgho de alepo
  • Germany: Aleppohirse
  • India: barool
  • Indonesia: glagah rajoeng; pangan
  • Iran: ghiagh
  • Italy: cannarecchia
  • Japan: seibanmorokoshi
  • Lebanon: hashishat-ul-faras
  • Netherlands: johnsongras
  • Pakistan: baru grass
  • Peru: grama china
  • Philippines: batad-bataran; ngigai
  • Saudi Arabia: halaiyan; sifrand
  • Sweden: durra, ograes-
  • Thailand: ya poeng
  • Turkey: gelis

EPPO code

  • SORHA (Sorghum halepense)
  • SORMI (Sorghum miliaceum)

Summary of Invasiveness

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S. halepense is a perennial grass which can be cultivated for fodder, but is also an extremely invasive weed with a worldwide distribution. Its extensive spreading rhizome and shoot system and high rate of seed production make it extremely invasive and difficult to eradicate. The species has a number of detrimental effects including: toxicity to grazing stock, fire risk during summer and competitive exclusion of other plants. It reduces soil fertility, acts as a host for crop pathogens and is a known allergen. It is regarded as a serious weed in 53 countries and in a wide range of field crops.

Taxonomic Tree

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

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The universally accepted name Sorghumhalepense refers to the town of Allepo in Syria, the origin of the specimen described by Linneaus. 'Johnson grass' was first used as the common name in Alabama, USA, where it was first cultivated as a fodder grass. S. halepense has a chromosome number of either 2n=20 or 2n=40. The diploid races originated in south Eurasia (see Warwick and Black, 1983) and these robust plants with broad leaf blades and large inflorescences have often been referred to as S. milliaceum. Populations from the USA and Canada are of Mediterranean origin and it is this tetraploid ecotype, with relatively small inflorescences and narrow leaf blades, which is commonly referred to as Johnson grass. The tetraploid S. halepense (2n=40) will hybridize with diploid cultivated Sorghum (Sorghumbicolor (L.) Moench, 2n=20). The progeny are usually sterile triploids which may be weedy in subsequent crops. Occasionally fertile hybrids occur, one of which is believed to be the origin of the fodder crop Colombus grass or black Sudan grass (S. x almum Parodi, 2n = 40) in Argentina. Other related species which may be of value as fodders, but are also weedy in some regions, include most notably the diploid S. arundinaceum (Desv.) Stapf (see Similarities to Other Species).



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S. halepense is a perennial grass with extensively creeping, fleshy rhizomes which are covered with brown scale-like sheaths, are up to 1 cm in diameter, 2 m in length, and often root from the nodes. The fibrous root system branches freely to depths of 1.2 m. The leaf blades, 20-60 cm long, 1.0-3.3 cm wide, have prominent midribs, are many nerved and hairless with projections on the lower surface and margins. The ribbed, hairless leaf sheaths have open overlapping margins and a membranous ligule with a hairy fringe, 2-5 mm long. Flowering stems are unbranched, 0.5-3.0 m tall, 0.5-2.0 cm in diameter, often with basal adventitious prop roots, nodes sometimes with fine hairs. The inflorescence is a pale green to purplish, hairy, pyramidal, many branched panicle, 15-50 cm long. The primary branches are up to 25 cm long, usually without spikelets for 2-5 cm from the base. The spikelets are usually in pairs but towards the top of the inflorescence they occur in threes, one spikelet of each pair or triplet is sessile and perfect with stamens and a stigma, the others are stalked and sterile or only carry stamens. The fertile spikelets are ovoid, hairy, 4.5-5.5 mm long; awns if present are 1-2 cm long and abruptly bent. The stalked spikelets are narrower, 5-7 mm long. The grain remains enclosed by glumes 4-6.6 mm long, 2-2.6 mm wide, the glumes are reddish brown to shiny black, glossy and finely lined on the surface.

Plant Type

Top of page Grass / sedge
Seed propagated
Vegetatively propagated


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PIER (2008) indicates native status restricted to south-eastern Europe. ISSG (2012) reports that it is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, and Syria. USDA-ARS (2008) includes North Africa and South Asia as well as the Mediterranean and western Asia but admits that the ‘exact native range is obscure’. Flora of China indicates it is ‘native’ in China (Missouri Botanical Gardens, 2008). A robust ecotype of S. halepense extends from southern India to western Pakistan, whereas a smaller narrower leaved form extends through to the eastern Mediterranean. This latter type, which is widely distributed throughout the Near East and southern Europe, has become widely naturalized in North and South America, Hawaii, USA, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and other oceanic islands following introduction as a fodder crop during the 1800s and early 1900s.

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


AfghanistanRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
ArmeniaPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
AzerbaijanPresentNativeUSDA-ARS, 2008
BahrainPresentNativeChaudhary et al., 1981
BangladeshPresentShukla, 1996
Chagos ArchipelagoPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
ChinaRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
-AnhuiPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
-FujianPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
-GuangdongPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
-HainanPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
-Hong KongRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-SichuanPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
-YunnanPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
IndiaRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-BiharPresentNativeShukla, 1996
-GujaratPresentNativePatel et al., 1993
-HaryanaPresentNativeSingh et al., 1987
-Himachal PradeshPresentNativeSharma and Sachan, 1994
-Indian PunjabPresentNativeShukla, 1996; Mehra et al., 1994
-Madhya PradeshPresentNativeShukla, 1996
-NagalandPresentNativeShukla, 1996
-OdishaPresentNativeShukla, 1996
-Uttar PradeshPresentNativeShukla, 1996; Chandel et al., 1995
-West BengalPresentShukla, 1996
IndonesiaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
IranRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
IraqRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
IsraelRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
JapanWidespreadIntroducedMorita, 1997; PIER, 2008Bonin
-HokkaidoPresentIntroducedMorita, 1997
-HonshuPresentIntroducedMorita, 1997
-KyushuPresentIntroducedMorita, 1997
-ShikokuPresentIntroducedMorita, 1997
JordanRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
KazakhstanPresentNativeUSDA, 2012
Korea, Republic ofPresentIntroducedKang et al., 1997
KyrgyzstanPresentNativeUSDA, 2012
LebanonRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
NepalPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
OmanPresentNativeChaudhary et al., 1981
PakistanRestricted distributionNativeCope, 1982; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
PhilippinesRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive IRRI, 1989; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
Saudi ArabiaPresentNativeChaudhary and Zawawi, 1983
Sri LankaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
SyriaPresentNativeUSDA, 2012
TaiwanRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
TajikistanPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
ThailandRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
TurkeyRestricted distributionNativeHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
TurkmenistanPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA, 2012
UzbekistanPresentNativeMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008; USDA, 2012


BeninPresentClayton, 1972
EgyptPresent, few occurrencesNativeTackholm, 1974
LibyaPresentNativeUSDA, 2012
MalawiRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
MoroccoRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
MozambiqueRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
NamibiaPresentIntroducedWells et al., 1986
NigeriaRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
SenegalPresentIntroducedHepper and, 1972
South AfricaRestricted distributionIntroducedGrabandt, 1985; Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
SwazilandPresentIntroducedWells et al., 1986
TanzaniaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014

North America

CanadaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-OntarioPresentIntroduced1959Warwick and Black, 1983
MexicoRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
USARestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
-AlabamaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ArizonaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ArkansasWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-CaliforniaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ColoradoPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-ConnecticutPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-DelawarePresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-FloridaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-GeorgiaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; PIER, 2008; EPPO, 2014
-IllinoisRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-IndianaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-IowaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-KansasRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-KentuckyWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-LouisianaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-MarylandPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MassachusettsPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MichiganPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-MississippiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-MissouriRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-NebraskaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-NevadaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-New JerseyPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-New MexicoPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-New YorkPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-North CarolinaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-OhioRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Johnson et al., 2003
-OklahomaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-OregonPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-PennsylvaniaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-Rhode IslandPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-South CarolinaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-TennesseeWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-TexasRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Lorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-UtahPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-VirginiaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987
-West VirginiaPresentIntroducedLorenzi and Jeffery, 1987

Central America and Caribbean

BelizePresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
Costa RicaPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
CubaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012; EPPO, 2014
Dominican RepublicRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
El SalvadorRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
GuatemalaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
HondurasRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
JamaicaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
NicaraguaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
PanamaPresentIntroducedMissouri Botanical Garden, 2008
Puerto RicoRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014

South America

ArgentinaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
BoliviaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
BrazilRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-AlagoasPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-AmazonasPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-BahiaPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-GoiasPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-ParaibaPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-ParanaPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-PernambucoPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
-SergipePresentIntroducedLorenzi, 1982
ChileRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
ColombiaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
EcuadorPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2008
French GuianaPresentIntroducedGBIF, 2008
ParaguayRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
PeruRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
UruguayRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
VenezuelaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014


AlbaniaPresentIntroducedClayton, 1980
AustriaPresentIntroducedWelz et al., 1996
BelarusPresentIntroducedTretyakov, 1988
Bosnia-HercegovinaPresentIntroducedPetrovic and Tabakovic, 2003
BulgariaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
CroatiaPresentDjurkic et al., 1997
Czechoslovakia (former)PresentIntroducedClayton, 1980
DenmarkLocalisedIntroduced1914NOBANIS, 2008
FrancePresentIntroducedClayton, 1980; Mamarot, 1996
-CorsicaPresentIntroducedClayton, 1980; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
GreeceRestricted distributionHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
HungaryPresentIntroducedHoffmann, 1987
ItalyRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008; EPPO, 2014
LatviaRestricted distributionIntroduced1944NOBANIS, 2008
LithuaniaRestricted distributionIntroduced1988NOBANIS, 2008
PolandRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
PortugalRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-AzoresPresentIntroducedClayton, 1980; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
RomaniaRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
Russian FederationRestricted distributionClayton, 1980; EPPO, 2014
-Central RussiaPresentIntroducedRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
-Southern RussiaPresentNativeRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
SerbiaRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
SpainRestricted distributionIntroducedHolm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
-Balearic IslandsPresentClayton, 1980; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 2008
SwitzerlandPresentIntroducedSchmitt, 1995
UKRestricted distributionIntroducedStace, 1991
UkrainePresentEPPO, 2014
Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro)Restricted distributionClayton, 1980


AustraliaRestricted distributionEPPO, 2014
-New South WalesWidespreadIntroducedParsons and Cuthbertson, 1992
-QueenslandPresentIntroducedParsons and Cuthbertson, 1992; PIER, 2008
-South AustraliaWidespreadIntroducedParsons and Cuthbertson, 1992
-VictoriaWidespreadIntroducedParsons and Cuthbertson, 1992
-Western AustraliaPresentIntroducedParsons and Cuthbertson, 1992
Cook IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008Mangaia
FijiRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; PIER, 2008; EPPO, 2014Vanua Levu, Viti Levu
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008Bora Bora, Raiatea, Tahiti
GuamPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
Micronesia, Federated states ofPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008Weno, Pohnpei
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008Iles Loyaute, Ile Belep, Ile Grande Terre, Iles des Pins
New ZealandRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Holm et al., 1991; EPPO, 2014
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008Rota, Saipan, Tinian
PalauPresentIntroduced Invasive PIER, 2008Babeldaob, Koror, Malakal, Ngerkebesang
Papua New GuineaPresentIntroducedHolm et al., 1991
Pitcairn IslandPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
SamoaPresentIntroduced1895Whistler, 1983; PIER, 2008Upolu
Solomon IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
TongaPresentIntroduced1951 Invasive Whistler, 1983; PIER, 2008Lifuka, Foa, ‘Eua, Tongatapu
VanuatuPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008
Wallis and Futuna IslandsPresentIntroducedPIER, 2008

History of Introduction and Spread

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Warwick and Black (1983) believe S. halepense was introduced into the south-eastern USA by the early 1800s and was being commonly grown there by the 1830s. The common name derives from the farmer of that name who introduced the species into Alabama from South Carolina in the 1940s. By 1900 it was recognised as a serious weed throughout the USA. First records from Canada are from Ontario in 1959. 

Dates of introductions to northern Europe include 1914 into Denmark, 1944 into Latvia and 1988 into Lithuania (NOBANIS, 2008). Introductions to southern Europe were no doubt much earlier. Essl (2005) notes increased abundance of S. halepense in Austria and Germany in the 1990s, perhaps due to climate warming. In eastern Austria there was just one population in 2000 but this increased to 13 by 2003 as a result of spread mainly along road-sides. 

Parsons and Cuthberrtson (1992) record it first being grown in Adelaide Botanic Garden, South Austalia in 1871, and first naturalised in New South Wales in 1883.


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Australia 1871 No No Parsons and Cuthbertson (1992); Parsons and WT, Cuthbertson (1992); ParsonsWT, and Cuthbertson (1992)
Canada 1959 Yes No Warwick and Black (1983)
Denmark 1914 Yes No NOBANIS (2008)
Latvia 1944 Yes No NOBANIS (2008)
Lithuania 1988 Yes No NOBANIS (2008)
USA Early 1800s Yes No Warwick and Black (1983)

Risk of Introduction

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Risks of introduction are likely, from possible deliberate introduction of seeds or rhizome material, for cultivation as a forage and fodder plant, or from accidental introduction as a contaminant of crop seed, other crop products or containers, or on vehicles. The combination of these possibilities amount to considerable significant risk of further introductions.


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In the eastern Mediterranean, where it is probably native, S. halepense is found in dry open habitats. It is now found in most of the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world, but is best adapted to humid summer rainfall areas in the subtropics rather than areas which are strictly tropical. It is particularly productive in the rainy season. Rhizome production has an optimum temperature near 30°C, whilst flowering is inhibited below 13°C. Many morphologically distinct biotypes have been described (McWhorter, 1971a) and most are killed by temperatures below -3°C. This lack of cold tolerance has restricted the spread of S.  halepense into areas with cooler climates. Some biotypes can, however, overwinter in Ontario, Canada, being the northern limit of the species' growth range by virtue of producing rhizomes at soil depths greater than 20 cm (Warwick and Black, 1983). The species can be found on arable land, wasteland and roadsides, and along stream or irrigation canal banks.

Habitat List

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Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Cultivated / agricultural land Principal habitat Productive/non-natural
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Principal habitat Natural
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Industrial / intensive livestock production systems Secondary/tolerated habitat Productive/non-natural
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Principal habitat Natural
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Principal habitat Natural
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural
Riverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Secondary/tolerated habitat Natural

Hosts/Species Affected

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S.  halepense is most commonly a major problem in subtropical crops which are planted in wide rows (cotton, maize, sorghum, soyabean and sugarcane). It can be a problem in closely spaced crops including sugar beet and wheat in warm temperate areas, and also in permanent crops, orchards and pastures.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Biology and Ecology

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S. halepense has a chromosome number of either 2n=20 or 2n= 40. The diploid races originated in south Eurasia. Populations from the USA and Canada are of Mediterranean origin and are a tetraploid ecotype. The tetraploid S. halepense (2n=40) will hybridize with diploid cultivated sorghum, Sorghumbicolor (L.) Moench (2n=20), and the progeny are usually sterile triploids which may be weedy in subsequent crops. Occasionally fertile hybrids occur, one of which is believed to be the origin of the fodder crop Colombus grass or black Sudan grass, S. x almum Parodi (2n=40) in Argentina. Although hybridisation with the crop sorghum is relatively rare and difficult to achieve in practice (Dweikat, 2005), genetic studies by Morrell et al. (2005) suggest that there has been extensive introgression of genes from the crop into S. halepense in areas where the crop is commonly grown. Hybridisation with auto-tetraploid sorghum is, however, relatively easy (Liang et al., 1999).

A study of populations of S. halepense in Kansas, USA showed high levels of genetic variability, suggesting that there is abundant reproduction from seed and only localised vegetative spread (Camacho et al., 1993).

Reproductive Biology

Although the ability of S. halepense to persist and compete with crops as a serious weed problem is related to the vigorous rhizome system, seeds provide the principal means of dispersal. S. halepense is self-fertile and produces abundant seeds. Most ecotypes are dormant when first shed due to the mechanical restriction of the seed coat and exhibit less than 10% germination at 20°C (Taylorson and McWhorter, 1969). After-ripening in dry storage overcomes this dormancy in 4-5 months. The extent of dormancy is influenced by environmental conditions during ripening, with greater germination levels being found in seeds which mature during periods of drought stress (Benech-Arnold et al., 1992). Holm et al. (1977) suggest that seed which has lain in the field germinates readily after one year and that seedlings can emerge from seeds buried up to 15 cm deep although most arise from the top 7 cm. Seeds can remain viable in soil for at least 7 years (Leguizamon, 1986; Uremis and Uygur, 2005) and remain viable after passing through the guts of animals (Holm et al., 1977). Minimum, optimum and maximum temperatures for germination are 20°C, 25-30°C and 40°C respectively (Uremis and Uygur, 1999).

Phenology and Physiology

S. halepense is a C4 plant and shows correspondingly rapid growth under warm and hot conditions. Three to six weeks after emergence, seedlings have 5-7 leaves and the first rhizomes begin to develop. There are three components to the rhizome system (Holm et al., 1977). The primary structures are important at the beginning of the growing season, providing buds for renewed growth. Extensions from the main rhizomes become secondary structures, giving rise to new plants. At flowering, tertiary rhizomes develop from the base of the plant and grow deeply until the onset of cold or dry weather, and these produce new plants the following season.

Environmental Requirements

Monaghan (1980) has described a low temperature suppression of rhizome bud sprouting, although some buds remain inactive even with a return to favourable growing conditions, ensuring that the plant can re-establish after temporary adverse conditions. Relatively high temperatures of 23-30°C promote bud sprouting (Hull, 1970). Fresh rhizomes are intolerant of high temperatures, being killed by 1-3 days on the soil surface at 50-60°C (McWhorter, 1972). Rhizomes will not tolerate very low soil temperatures, being killed at -17°C, but surviving -9°C (Stoller, 1977). Rhizome production and flowering are inhibited at temperatures below 13-15°C (Horowitz, 1972; Holm et al, 1977). S. halepense will tolerate a degree of flooding, rhizome fragments germinating after being submerged for up to 4 weeks (Horowitz, 1972).


Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) -15
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 20 30
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 35
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 0


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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration08number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall3002000mm; lower/upper limits

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free
  • impeded
  • seasonally waterlogged

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • alkaline
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • infertile
  • shallow

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Bipolaris cookei Pathogen
Hispellinus moestus Herbivore
Sporisorium cruentum Pathogen

Notes on Natural Enemies

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Parsons and Cuthbertson (1992) suggest that biological control of S. halepense may be possible with the leaf-miner, Hispellinus moestus, a bacterial leafspot caused by Pseudomonas syringae and loose smut, Sphacelotheca holci, which is known to reduce plant growth (including rhizomes) significantly. However, the authors do comment that much more needs to be known about their specificity and host range.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)

When mature, S. halepense seeds are readily shed and can be carried short or longer distances by wind or rain water run-off, and longer distances in canals from where this species may be introduced to new sites in irrigation water. Although rhizomes are extremely important in the establishment of colonies of the weed, these only result in spread by a few metres per year.

Vector Transmission (Biotic)

Longer distance dispersal of S. halepense at the local level depends mainly on the seeds which are readily shed at maturity and may be spread by animals

Accidental Introduction

Distribution of S. halepense across much longer distances may result from contaminated crop seed, fodder or vehicles, or it may also be transferred in contaminated soil, as either seed or rhizome, as has occurred with the importation of fruit trees into parts of Arabia (e.g. Parker, 1973).

Intentional Introduction

S. halepense may have been introduced by deliberate movement of material for planting. It was originally introduced into the USA as a forage plant in the 1800s.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Animal production Yes Yes
Botanical gardens and zoos Yes
Breeding and propagation Yes Yes
Crop production Yes Yes
Forage Yes Yes
Intentional release Yes Yes
Interbasin transfers Yes Yes
Research Yes Yes

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Aircraft Yes
Containers and packaging - non-wood Yes Yes
Land vehicles Yes
Livestock Yes
Plants or parts of plants Yes Yes
Soil, sand and gravel Yes Yes
Water Yes
Wind Yes

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 Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
Growing medium accompanying plants Pest or symptoms usually invisible
Roots Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
True seeds (inc. grain) Pest or symptoms usually invisible
Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Fruits (inc. pods)

Wood Packaging

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Wood Packaging not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Loose wood packing material
Processed or treated wood
Solid wood packing material with bark
Solid wood packing material without bark

Impact Summary

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Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Negative

Economic Impact

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S. halepense is listed by Holm et al. (1977) as one of the world's 10 worst weeds, occurring as a principle weed of maize, cotton and sugarcane in tropical and temperate climates, and reported as a weed in 30 different crops in 53 countries. Considered in 1969 to be one of the 10 worst weeds of field crops in the USA (Anderson, 1969), its range has continued to expand in eastern and northern America, particularly in association with maize and soyabean monoculture (Warwick, 1990). In the southern USA, however, the weed declined in importance between 1974 and 1995 (Webster and Coble, 1997). Crop yield reductions due to S. halepense are reported to be 25-59% in sugarcane (McWhorter, 1972) 12-40% in maize (Holm et al., 1977, Mikulas and Sule, 1979), and 23-42% in soyabean (McWhorter and Hartwig, 1972). Losses in soyabean in Argentina were reported as $300 million per year as a result of S. halepense infestation (Colbert, 1979). In the USA, S. halepense has often caused the abandonment of row-crop cultivation on good soils once it has become dominant. Holm et al. (1977) suggest that the poor germination and growth of some crops on infested land is the result of toxic exudates from roots or decaying vegetation, supported by more recent studies (e.g. Torma and Bereczki-Kovács, 2004; Vasilakoglou et al., 2005). The latter authors recorded more allelopathic damage to cotton (up to 86% crop loss) than to maize (up to 64% loss).

Various sources indicate that, although S. halepense has been widely used as a fodder plant, it can cause poisoning of cattle under some circumstances due to its cyanic content (Warwick and Black, 1983; Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992; Henderson, 2001) during periods of vigorous growth, drought or following frost. Consequently, prussic acid poisoning of cattle is well known in Australia and USA (Holm et al., 1977; Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992).

S. halepense serves as an alternative host for several pests of Sorghum and maize, most notably the sorghum midge (Contarinia sorghicola) in California and Mississippi, USA, the leaf hopper Graminella nigrifrons, the vector of corn stunt disease in South Carolina, USA, a corn leaf aphid Rhopalosiphum maidis in New York, USA, and the aphid Schizaphis graminium, the vector of Sugarcane mosaic virus in California and New York, USA. It is also the host of many nematode species including Meloidogyne incognita and numerous fungal pathogens including the leaf spot diseases Cercospora sorghi and Helminthosporium sorghicola [Bipolaris sorghicola], leaf blight Helminthosporium turcicum [Setosphaeria turcica], downy mildew Sclerophthora macrospora, and loose and covered kernel smut Sphacelotheca cruenta and S. sorghi. The weed is also an alternate host of viruses which cause rice leaf gall, corn leaf gall, stripe disease of rice, Maize dwarf mosaic virus, Sugar beet yellows virus and Wheat streak mosaic. Further details of the crop nematodes, pathogens, bacteria and viruses associated with S.  halepense are provided by Holm et al. (1977) and Warwick and Black (1983).

Threatened Species

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Threatened SpeciesConservation StatusWhere ThreatenedMechanismReferencesNotes
Spiranthes delitescensEN (IUCN red list: Endangered) EN (IUCN red list: Endangered); USA ESA listing as endangered species USA ESA listing as endangered speciesArizonaCompetition - stranglingUS Fish and Wildlife Service, 1997

Social Impact

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In Australia, road verge infestations of S. halepense have been reported to constitute a safety hazard by restricting visibility on curves and corners (Monaghan, 1978). In the USA, the pollen is said to contribute to hay fever (Wodehouse, 1971).

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
  • Tolerates, or benefits from, cultivation, browsing pressure, mutilation, fire etc
  • Pioneering in disturbed areas
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
  • Has high reproductive potential
  • Has propagules that can remain viable for more than one year
  • Reproduces asexually
  • Has high genetic variability
Impact outcomes
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Threat to/ loss of native species
Impact mechanisms
  • Allelopathic
  • Competition - monopolizing resources
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Poisoning
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control


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S. halepense remains an important fodder grass in many sub-tropical areas, having a similar protein content to alfalfa (lucerne) and a comparable feed value to other important fodder grasses (Bennett, 1973; Looker, 1981). Due to its capacity to form extensive networks of rhizomes, S. halepense can also be useful for control of soil erosion (Bennett, 1973).

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage


  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Soil conservation


  • Botanical garden/zoo

Genetic importance

  • Gene source


  • Poisonous to mammals

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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In Australia, colombus grass (Sorghumalmum) has become naturalized throughout coastal Queensland, and in parts of New South Wales and the Northern Territory (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). This rhizomatous derivative of a cross between S. bicolor and S. halepense is difficult to distinguish from S. halepense, although it has somewhat larger seeds. Due to the similar appearance between seeds of the two species, colombus grass is declared a noxious weed in New South Wales and no seeds are allowed in traded Sorghum grain.

In northern, south-eastern, south-central and western USA, the annual grass shattercane (a form of Sorghumbicolor), can be difficult to distinguish from S. halepense in the field at some stages of development. As well as lacking rhizomes, this weed of sorghum, maize and occasionally nursery and vegetable crops (Uva et al., 1997) has wider leaf blades (generally > 3 cm) than S.  halepense and larger more rounded seeds.

The most widely distributed annual 'weedy' Sorghum is S. arundinaceum sensu lato (including many synonyms, for example, S. verticilliflorum, S. virgatum and S. aethiopicum). This species extends from Sudan and Ethiopia (Hamada, 1988; Stroud and Parker, 1989) through Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania (Clayton and Renvoize, 1982) to Mozambique (Almeida and Teixeira, 1971). In West Africa, it is known from Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon (Clayton, 1972). The distribution of S. arundinaceum in the neotropics includes Brazil and Venezuela (Lorenzi, 1982; Malaguti, 1979), while in Asia it is found in India and Pakistan (Cope, 1982). This species is more robust than S.  halepense, culms growing up to 4 m high with leaf blades up to 75 cm long and 3 to 7 cm wide.

Prevention and Control

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The rapid spread and establishment of S. halepense as a serious weed problem in the subtropics since its widespread introduction for forage from the mid 1800s demonstrates the need for vigilance to prevent its introduction to other areas. Phytosanitary inspectors of grain, particularly maize and Sorghum shipped from infested areas, should always check for the presence of S. halepense seeds. Australian legislation prohibits the sale of crop seed contaminated with S. halepense seed (Genn, 1987). S. halepense is a ‘declared invader’ in South Africa (Henderson, 2001) and has noxious weed status in other countries including Australia and the USA.


An integrated weed management programme, in which crop rotation, repeated tillage, competitive crops and appropriate herbicides are combined, is needed for sustained suppression of S. halepense. Useful discussions of control options have been prepared by McWhorter and Hartwig (1965), Warwick and Black (1983), Parsons and Cuthbertson (1992) and Labrada (1994).

Physical/mechanical control

Regular mowing, cultivation or herbicides are effective in both orchard and non-crop situations, the choice of weed control method depending largely on the accessibility of the site, but due to its capacity to regenerate from rhizome fragments, control of S. halepense by tillage alone is difficult. A summer fallow combined with regular shallow tillage may be employed to prevent rhizome growth, but heavily infested areas have to be tilled up to six times at intervals of no more than 2 weeks to achieve eradication (Timmins and Bruns, 1951; McWhorter, 1973). Repeated tillage exposes rhizome fragments to desiccation at the soil surface, but limited early season tillage or harrowing produces an ideal seedbed for S.  halepense regrowth.

Chemical control

In annual crops, selective control can be obtained with a number of herbicides including: propachlor, bifenox and metolachlor in grain Sorghum; cloproxydim, fenoxaprop-p-ethyl, fluazifop-p-butyl, haloxyfop-methyl, imazaquin, imazethapyr, sethoxydim, trifluralin and quizalofop-ethyl in soyabeans; trifluralin, fenoxaprop-p-ethyl, fluazifop-p-butyl, haloxyfop-methyl, fluometuron and diuron in cotton; bifenox in sunflower; and propanil/thiobencarb mixtures in rice (Barrentine, 1987; Bridges and Chandler, 1987; Ignatov, 1989; Riley and Shaw, 1989; Frans et al., 1991; Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992; Labrada, 1994).

Sulfonylureas are particularly effective, with three consecutive seasons use of either nicosulfuron or primisulfuron achieving eradication of the weed in maize (Tweedy and Kapusta, 1995). Pre-sowing control of S. halepense with glyphosate is an important component of weed management for no-till crop systems including soyabean and sorghum (Defelice et al., 1987; Brown et al., 1988). Asulam and directed application of glyphosate both provide effective control in sugarcane (Mehra et al., 1994; Bruff et al., 1996).

The development of herbicide-resistant crops has resulted in glyphosate becoming a standard treatment in tolerant cotton, maize and soyabeans in the Americas. Imazapic in imidazolinone-tolerant maize has also given excellent results (Thompson et al., 2005). However, there has been increasing evidence for the development of herbicide-tolerance to a number of herbicides including dalapon, glyphosate, fluazifop and imazapic and related herbicides (McWhorter, 1971b; Fernandez et al. 1987; Vila-Aiub et al., 2007; WeedScience, 2008). The largest areas of glyphosate resistance are in Argentine but this and other herbicides are implicated at a range of sites in the USA (WeedScience, 2008).


Crop rotation, particularly when a grazing component is included, provides the opportunity to combine a number of control practices including; herbicides with a number of different modes of action, control in different seasons of the year and chemical and cultural weed management methods. Diawara and Banks (1990) reported reduced S. halepense infestation in no-till grain sorghum following winter barley in which the herbicide programme had included oryzalin. A summer maize-winter wheat-grazing oat rotation can bring the weed under control over a relatively short period (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992). The same authors describe a programme used to eradicate S. halepense in which infested land is sown to a perennial pasture grass following a period of cultivation, to allow the control of regrowth by MSMA to which fodder species, including Rhodes grass, are resistant. However, several applications of MSMA are needed over a period of years before Rhodes grass becomes dominant enough to limit establishment of S. halepense seedlings. Dimitrova and Marinov-Serafimov (2007) demonstrated that a mixture of lucerne and grasses including Dactylis glomerata reduced S. halepense to a satisfactory level after 4 years.

Fluazifop or sulfosate are useful options in vineyards (Hearn, 1988; Trouslard, 1991). Repeated use of atrazine as the only herbicide has led to the evolution of triazine resistant populations of S. halepense along railway lines in Central Europe resulting in the use of glyphosate as an alternative herbicide (Arsenovic et al., 1988). Rotation of herbicides with different modes of action or the use of mowing or tillage to prevent any seed production should be implemented to prevent the development of herbicide resistant S. halepense in such situations. Mulching with black plastic sheeting can be an effective and economical solution to S. halepense infestation on small areas of high value crops (Parsons and Cuthbertson, 1992).


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Global register of Introduced and Invasive species (GRIIS) source for updated system data added to species habitat list.


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15/04/2008 Updated by:

Chris Parker, Consultant, UK

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