Urochloa distachya (signal grass)
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Plant Type
- Distribution Table
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Air Temperature
- Rainfall Regime
- Soil Tolerances
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Social Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Uses List
- Detection and Inspection
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Urochloa distachya (L.) T.Q. Nguyen
Preferred Common Name
- signal grass
Other Scientific Names
- Brachiaria distachya (L.) Stapf
- Brachiaria miliiformis (J. Presl) Chase
- Brachiaria subquadripara (Trin.) Hitchc.
- Digitaria distachya (L.) Pers.
- Panicum distachyon L.
- Panicum miliiforme J. Presl
- Panicum subquadriparum Trin.
- Urochloa subquadripara (Trin.) R.D. Webster
International Common Names
- English: arm-grass millet; cori grass; green summer grass; thurston grass; tropical signal grass; two-finger grass
Local Common Names
- Australia: atuta
- Brazil: tanner grass
- BRADI (Brachiaria distachya)
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Plantae
- Phylum: Spermatophyta
- Subphylum: Angiospermae
- Class: Monocotyledonae
- Order: Cyperales
- Family: Poaceae
- Genus: Urochloa
- Species: Urochloa distachya
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
For the purposes of this datasheet, Brachiaria subquadripara/Urochloa subquadripara and B. distachya/U. distachya are treated as one entity.
Urochloa distachya and related species were formerly placed within the genus Brachiaria. The subject of this datasheet has been described as Brachiaria subquadripara (Trin.) Hitchc., which is still a preferred name in The Plant List (2013). The name was later changed to Urochloa subquadripara (Trin.) R.D. Webster, but U. subquadripara is now placed by the Catalogue of New World Grasses (Soreng et al., 2012) and ITIS (2015) as a synonym of Urochloa distachya (L.) T.Q. Nguyen.
There seems to be some confusion regarding the identity of the species. Some databases accept two separate species; The Plant List (2013) has B. subquadripara and B. distachya both as preferred names, while USDA-ARS (2015) accepts U. subquadripara and U. distachya. According to JSTOR (2015), the species U. distachya and U. subquadripara are very similar, but the ranges of spikelet length differ, which justifies the maintenance of the species as different entities. JSTOR also mentions a third similar species, U. distachyoides, native to West Africa, which differs mainly due to the absence of an internode between the two glumes.
Simon and Alfoso (2011) also consider U. subquadripara a separate species from U. distachya, distinguished by spikelet length and presence of a palea in the lower floret. Veldkamp (1996) kept the two species separate on spikelet and lemma characteristics, but said that they may well be chromosomal varieties of each other. Pohl (1980) combined the two taxa within the genus Brachiaria, while Morrone and Zuloaga (1992) and Zuloaga and Morrone (2003) combine them within Urochloa. Reinheimer and Vegetti (2008) also give the alternative names as synonyms of Urochloa distachya.
The Flora of China (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015), under the taxon Brachiaria subquadripara, mentions two varieties: Brachiaria subquadripara var. subquadripara and B. subquadripara var. miliiformis, on the basis of spikelet morphology. The former is supposed to occur in a wider range of habitats through tropical Asia and the Pacific Islands, while var. miliiformis is restricted to China, India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015).
DescriptionTop of page
The species is a creeping annual or short-lived perennial plant. Culms slender, straggling, rooting at lower nodes, 20–60 cm tall, nodes pubescent (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015). The leaf blades are broadly linear to narrowly lanceolate, loose, glabrous or with tubercle-based hairs or ciliate margins, 2–8 cm long, and 3–7 mm wide. Leaf base subrounded, margins thicker and scabrous, apexacute or acuminate. Ligule a fimbriated membrane, few long hairs on shoulders. Inflorescences produce 2–3 racemes borne on a 0.5–2 cm long axis, unilateral, 2-6 cm long. Central inflorescence axis 3-10 cm long. Rachis narrowly winged, glabrous on margins, with very short scabrous hairs. Racemes are 1–3 cm long, bearing the spikelets on a narrowly winged rachis. Spikelets are narrowly elliptic, 2.4–3 mm long, glabrous, and acute, or 3.3-3.7 mm long, and slightly dorsally compressed. Spikelet packing adaxial, regular, 2 -rowed. Spikelets solitary. Fertile spikelets sessile, comprised of a basal sterile floret and a fertile floret; there is no rhachilla extension, and they fall entire. Rhachilla internodes elongated between glumes. Glumes dissimilar and reaching apex of florets, thinner than fertile lemma. The lower glume is ovate, 1/3–1/2 as long as the spikelet, clasping; membranous, without keels, 5-7-veined. Lower glume with obtuse apex, upper glume apex acute, oblong, separated from the lower by a short internode. Upper lemma rugulose, margins involute, bluntly acute. Lemma of lower sterile floret similar to upper glume, oblong, equal length of spikelet, membranous, 5 -veined, acute. Fertile lemma elliptic, 3-3.5 mm long, indurate. Basal sterile florets barren, with palea involute, indurate, surface rugose. Fruit testa glossy, with dense low papillae. Rhizomes absent. Stolons absent or present.
Forms dense stoloniferous mats. It tends to be more glabrous in damp areas, and somewhat hairy in dry areas (Kissmann, 1997).
Plant TypeTop of page Annual
Grass / sedge
DistributionTop of page
The native range of the species is not very clear, as different sources refer to different areas, and in some cases give separate distributions for B. subquadripara /U. subquadripara and B. distachya/U. distachya. Most records refer to a tropical Asian origin, and introduction to Africa and other continents. JSTOR (2015) gives the native range as India to Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, saying that it is only present as an introduced weed in Africa. Fritsch (2001) suggests that it is native to Asia and Australasia but introduced to tropical Africa and the Americas, while Simon and Alfonso (2011) say that U. subquadripara is native to tropical Africa and Asia, and that U. distachya is native in the northern parts of Australia.
Details of the distribution within Australia are given by Simon and Alfonso (2011). Distribution is mainly tropical and subtropical, but it also grows in arid central areas of Australia (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015). The species has been introduced and become invasive in many islands in the Pacific (PIER, 2015). It is also now present in both North and South America.
The African Plant Database (2012) reports it as present on the borders of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and between Nigeria and Benin.
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|Brazil||Congo||Forage (pathway cause)||Yes||Kissmann (1997)|
|Fiji||1927||New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (2015)|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
A number of risk assessments for this species have concluded that it is a high risk, and should not be introduced. In Brazil, the Horus Institute for Environmental Conservation and Development listed it as high risk and should be rejected for introduction. Florida also listed it for rejection (Gordon et al., 2008). In New Zealand, uncertainties about potential distribution and preferred habitat feed back into uncertainty regarding what risk the species poses economically and environmentally to specific habitats and industries in the country (New Zealand Department for Primary Industries, 2015).
U. distachya has high potential for further spread as many species in the genus are used as forage. Initial introductions are mostly deliberate, then the species spreads via vectors associated with cattle production and farming machinery, as well as roads, streams and other connecting pathways.
HabitatTop of page
In Australia, it grows in sandy soils in disturbed places, along roads and railway lines in Eucalypt forest, dune forest, various types of woodland and shrubland (CSIRO, 2010). The species widely occurs as a weed in tropical and subtropical rain forests, tropical and subtropical sub-humid woodlands, and coastal grasslands (Simon and Alfonso, 2011).
Widely adapted to the warm lowland tropics, it is particularly suited to monsoon environments. It prefers medium- to light-textured soils of medium to high fertility. It is a shade-tolerant tropical grass, which makes it particularly valuable for shaded pastures, as in tree plantations (Schultze-Kraft , 1992).
Invasive in wetlands and river flats subjected to flooding. The species is abundant in wetlands and flooded areas, and resists temporary flooding very well, when it acquires substantial green mass that floats on top of the water (Carbonari et al., 2003).
The species is capable of tolerating a wide range of habitats and environmental conditions. Adapted to a wide variety of soil types, including fertility, humidity and lighting conditions. Common on sandy soils and sandy alluvium, tolerates clay soils (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015). In China it is found on hill slopes, grassy places, fields, and in open forests (Flora of China Editorial Committee, 2015).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Terrestrial – Managed||Cultivated / agricultural land||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed forests, plantations and orchards||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Managed grasslands (grazing systems)||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Industrial / intensive livestock production systems||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Disturbed areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rail / roadsides||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Terrestrial ‑ Natural / Semi-natural||Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Natural grasslands||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Irrigation channels||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rivers / streams||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
There are different references to chromosome numbers (PROTA, 2015):
a) n = 36 (Basappa et al., 1987)
b) 2n = 72 (Pohl and Davidse, 1971)
c) n = 36, 42 (Mehra, 1982)
d) 2n = 54-56, 72 (Hitchcock, 1929)
e) 2n = 36, 72 (Kissmann, 1997)
In Australia, this species flowers throughout the year (Simon and Alfonso, 2011). It also reproduces vegetatively, developing roots from nodes in the culms in contact with the soil. Stolons develop into new culms, forming clones. Kissmann (1997) reports in Brazil that reproduction is mainly vegetative. Carbonari et al. (2003) also say that this perennial grass reproduces mainly vegetatively by abundant stolons, producing few seeds of low reproductive capacity.
Some sources acknowledge dispersal by seeds as well as vegetatively, with seed dispersal by birds and bats (in Fiji) as well as by wind, gravity, animals, and possibly water (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015).
Germination in the field occurs when soil temperatures reach 77°F (25oC) in Florida, USA. Dry seasons can delay seed germination (Teuton et al., 2005).
Physiology and Phenology
Urochloa spp. have PEPCK biochemical type, C4 photosynthesis (Kissmann, 1997).
U. distachya requires light availability, moisture, and warm temperatures.
ClimateTop of page
|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]))|
|Cf - Warm temperate climate, wet all year||Preferred||Warm average temp. > 10°C, Cold average temp. > 0°C, wet all year|
Air TemperatureTop of page
|Parameter||Lower limit||Upper limit|
|Mean annual temperature (ºC)||25|
Rainfall RegimeTop of page Bimodal
Soil TolerancesTop of page
- seasonally waterlogged
Special soil tolerances
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
U. distachya can be introduced through commerce of forage seeds as a seed contaminant (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015). It can spread via roads, railways and streams (CSIRO, 2010), and through contaminated machinery, produce, soil or stock feed (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015), and on shoes and gardening equipment (lawn mowers, etc.).
Pathway CausesTop of page
Pathway VectorsTop of page
|Clothing, footwear and possessions||Footwear||Yes|
|Containers and packaging - wood||Commerce of forage seeds||Yes||New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015|
|Land vehicles||Species is common on roadsides and trails, adheres to vehicles||Yes||Yes||New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015|
|Livestock||Forage grass||Yes||Yes||New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015|
|Machinery and equipment||Adheres to vehicles and machinery in farms||Yes||New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015|
|Soil, sand and gravel||Seed bank||Yes||Yes|
|Water||Streams, rivers, flooding, irrigation||Yes||Yes||New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015|
Impact SummaryTop of page
|Economic/livelihood||Positive and negative|
Economic ImpactTop of page
U. distachya is a host of Blissus leucopterus, a serious pest to several grasses, including cultivated plants such as rice, wheat, maize and sugarcane (Kissmann, 1997).
If cattle are fed on this grass for several days it generates serious intoxication. The symptons are deep eyes, walking difficulty, soft, very green faeces, and reddish urine. If not transferred to a different pasture the animals may die, but tend to recover once the change in forage is provided. This grass has a higher concentration of nitrates than other Urochloa species (Kissmann, 1997).
The species is highly invasive in flooded rice plantations and in irrigation canals (Kissmann, 1997). In the 1980s it was the major problem at the Formoso Project, an agricultural development in Goias, Brazil (Kissmann, 1997). In Florida, it is a dominant weed in the turf grass industry, and its presence increases production costs and lowers turf quality (Teuton et al., 2004). In the Pacific, it is cited as a weed of vegetables and lawns, important in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji (Waterhouse, 1997).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Habitats
Very aggressive in humid areas and wetlands (Kissmann, 1997).
The species may be a threat in disturbed wetlands, riparian habitats, and dune systems by altering these ecosystems, displacing native species, or threatening local populations. In New Zealand, it may threaten native dune plants such as pingao (Desmochoenus spiralis), a plant of cultural importance to the Maori (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015).
Impact on Biodiversity
Because U. distachya is highly competitive and produces a large volume of biomass, the species reduces species diversity and the functional diversity of indigenous macrophytes. Its allelopathic components, resistance to long periods of drought, and high germination capacity in low light conditions increase its competitive ability. When it forms extensive mats it impacts the native diversity of plants and also of fishes (Mormul et al., 2010).
Social ImpactTop of page
Commonly invasive along margins of lakes and multiple use reservoirs (energy generation, recreation, fishing, navigation). The presence of this species in water bodies generates water loss by transpiration, reduces water flow in canals, increases siltation, and generates higher maintenance costs (Tanaka, 1998; Oliveira and Constantin, 2001). It reduces water storage and shortens the usage of reservoirs by facilitating siltation (Pitelli, 1998).
The species can be considered of highest concern among aquatic weeds in Brazil (Mormul et al., 2010).
Because it is a weed in lawns, it has impact on amenity values (New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries, 2015).
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Tolerant of shade
- Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Reproduces asexually
- Damaged ecosystem services
- Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
- Increases vulnerability to invasions
- Modification of hydrology
- Modification of natural benthic communities
- Modification of successional patterns
- Monoculture formation
- Negatively impacts agriculture
- Negatively impacts tourism
- Reduced amenity values
- Reduced native biodiversity
- Soil accretion
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition - smothering
- Rapid growth
- Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
- Difficult to identify/detect in the field
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
The species is used as a forage grass for ruminants in coconut plantations where it is grazed by animals. This grass is very palatable when young, and the regrowth is of acceptable forage quality (1-2% N at 4-8 weeks) (Schultze-Kraft, 1992).
In tropical Asia and sporadically in other tropical countries it is cultivated in intercroppings, as soil cover in old coconut plantations, and as a palatable pasture grass. It is able to grow in half-shade and can increase coconut yield. It is a good soil-binder in sandy areas (Fritsch, 2001).
It is a good forage grass, well accepted by cattle, easy to reproduce, with high biomass yield (Kissmann, 1997). It is sometimes cultivated as a lawn grass in Asia (Fritsch, 2001), and as a shade-tolerant ground cover (Schultze-Kraft, 1992).
Uses ListTop of page
Animal feed, fodder, forage
- Fodder/animal feed
- Seed trade
Detection and InspectionTop of page
The species is similar to other species in the genus Urochloa, many of which are widely used and commercialized for forage; therefore, identification is not easy. As many species in the genus are invasive, it might be easier to consider the genus as a target.
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
The species is very similar to U. piligera, from which it is distinguished by spikelet length and presence of a palea in the lower floret (Simon and Alfonso, 2011).
Some authors consider it a synonym of Urochloa mutica, as the species are very similar and often occur together. They can be distinguished by the inflorescences: while U. mutica has longer and more numerous racemes, with paired or branched lower panicles, U. distachya has smaller and less numerous racemes which do not branch out (Kissmann, 1997).
Prevention and ControlTop of page
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.
If mechanical control leads to fragmentation of the plants, the invasion will worsen, as each fragment functions as a propagule that can produce a new plant (Mormul et al., 2010).
Among the herbicides used to control this grass are glyphosate, diquat, copper-based endothal, fluridone, and imazapyr (Martins, 1998). Glyphosate has proved to be efficient, although part of the grasses resprouted after 37 days. Imazapyr was efficient, but slow, with good control after 75 days. Diquat application yielded much resprouting, so it was not considered efficient (Carbonari et al., 2003).
Pre-emergence herbicide field trials in Florida, USA, using benefin + oryzalin, imazapic, and oryzalin provided >75% control eight weeks after application. Greenhouse trials on immature plants using post-emergence herbicides Asulam and CGA 362622 resulted in >89% control, and trials with Imazaquin resulted in 98% control. These treatments were not effective once applied in the field (Teuton et al., 2004).
In Florida several pre and post emergence herbicides were tested. An integrated management program can reduce infestation in the long term. Preemergence application of benefin + oryzalin, benefin +trifluralin, dithiopyr, imazaquin, and oryzalin controlled the grass up to 8 weeks after application. Early postemergence application of asulam, metribuzin, or quinclorac resulted in moderate control when applied before the eight-leaf stage. Most selective post-emergence herbicides do not control mature populations (Teuton et al., 2005).
In Australia, pre-emergence application of MON 13200 (thiazopyr) resulted in acceptable levels of control in sugar cane crops, with good crop safety (Somervaille, 1993).
ReferencesTop of page
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ContributorsTop of page
27/05/15 Original text by:
Dr Silvia Ziller, Society for Wildlife Research and Environmental Education, Curitiba, PR, Brazil
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