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Cenchrus ciliaris L.

Syn.: Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link
Pennisetum cenchroides Rich.
Buffelgrass, Anjangrass, African foxtail

Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


This highly nutritious grass is considered excellent for pasture in hot, dry areas and is valued for its production of palatable forage and intermittent grazing during droughty periods in the tropics. Yield of some strains makes it good for forage during the wet season also. The grass, fed green, turned into silage, or made into hay is said to increase flow of milk in cattle and impart a sleek and glossy appearance.

Folk Medicine

C. ciliaris is reported to be lactagogue. Related species are recorded as being anodyne, diuretic, and emollient, and are folk remedies for kidney pain, tumors, sores and wounds (Duke and Wain, 1981).


Per 100 g, the fresh plant is reported to contain on a zero-moisture basis, 11.0 g protein, 2.6 g fat, 73.2 g total carbohydrate, 31.9 g fiber, and 13.2 g ash (Gohl, 1981). Per 100 g, hay is reported to contain on a zero-moisture basis 7.4 g protein, 1.7 g fat, 79.2 g total carbohydrate, 35.2 g fiber, and 11.7 g ash (Gohl, 1981).


Bunchgrass, or rhizomatous perennial, often forming mats or tussocks; culms erect or decumbent, 15–120 cm tall, with a knotty crown; sheaths glabrous to sparingly pilose, compressed; ligule ciliate, 0.5–1.3 mm long; blades green to bluish-green, scabrous, sometimes slightly pilose, 2.8–30 cm long, 2.2–8.5 mm broad, tapering to a point; inflorescence dense, cylindric, 2–12 cm long, 1–2.6 cm wide, purplish; rachis flexuous, scabrous, internodes 0.8–2 mm long (usually about 1 mm), flowers solitary or alustered, surrounded by numerous bristles; burs elongate, variously pubescent, 6–15 mm long, 1–2 mm wide; spines erect or spreading, 4.3–10 mm long, long-ciliate pubescent on inner margins, antrorsely barbed; lower whorl of spines bristle-like, shorter than the inner ones; spikelets 2–4 per bur, 2–5.6 mm long; first glume 1–3 mm long, 0.7–1.4 mm wide, thin and membranous, 1-veined; second glume 1.3–3.4 mm long, 1–3-veined; sterile lemma 2.5–5 mm long, 5–6 veined; fertile floret 2.2–5.4 mm long, enclosing the ovoid caryopsis; caryopsis 1.4–1.9 mm long, about 1 mm broad; anthers 2–2.5 mm long. Roots dense and long (Reed, 1976).


Reported from the Hindustani and Indochina-Indonesia Centers of Diversity, buffelgrass, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate disease, drought, fire, fungus, grazing, heavy soil, insects, limestone, low pH, and sand (Duke, 1978). Many ecotypes and strains are known, each adapted to certain conditions and localities. Spreading types are used for pasture, and erect forms for hay. Local strains have been selected from native stands in parts of Africa. 'Chipinga foxtail' is a fine, leafy form in Rhodesia; 'Manzimnyamal and 'Sebungwe' are dwarf forms suitable for semi-arid conditions. 'Zeerust' is a tall, leafy form adapted to 50–63 cm rainfall in Tanzania. Other species of Cenchrus used for fodder include: C. barbatus Schum. (C. catharticus Delile), C. setigerus Vahl (C. biflorus Roxb., C. montanus Nees) and C. pennisetiformis Hochst. & Steud. (Pennisetum cenchroides var. echinoides Hook. f.). The first two are common in and regions of northwest India and Madras. C. setigerus yields up to 14 T/ha of green fodder in one cutting under rainfed conditions. C. pennisetiformis is considered a hybrid between C. ciliaris and C. setigerus, being most like the first (C.S.I.R., 1948–1976). (2n = 32, 34, 36, 40, 44, 52, 54; apomictic.)


Native to dry sandy areas throughout Africa, Arabia, Canary Islands, Malagasy, Indonesia, northern India, and Pakistan. Introduced into many tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Probably introduced into Western Australia about 1870–1880 in Afghan camel harnesses. Adventive to North America (Texas, Mexico), South America, West Indies, Hawaii, and Virgin Islands.


Ranging from Warm Temperate Thorn to Moist, through Tropical Desert to Moist Forest Life Zones, buffelgrass is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of (2.5-)3.8–26.7 dm (mean of 20 cases = 10.1), annual temperature of 12.5–27.8°C (mean of 20 cases = 21.5), and pH of 5.5–8.2 (mean of 16 cases = 6.9) (Duke, 1978, 1979). Buffelgrass thrives from sea level to 2000 m, in dry sandy regions, with rainfall 250–750 mm annually (but tolerates much higher rainfall), on shallow soils of marginal fertility. Such characteristics extend its production range and increase its value for pasturage. It responds to rainfall by developing brighter color and an increase in growth rate, giving highest yields when rain is plentiful. Crop has been grown on heavy dark clays 30–90 cm deep, underlain by loose marl, with pH of 7.0–8.0. It fares poorly on heavy clay or soils deficient in Ca. It thrives at high temperatures with 35°C being optimum for photosynthesis. In Australia, buffelgrass withstood 5-day flooding without any loss of plants, and 20-day flooding with losses of 20–85%, depending on the cultivar (Anderson, 1970). For greater flood tolerance, Anderson (1970) recommends selecting taller varieties of C. ciliaris, and leaving the plants uncut/ungrazed shortly before the highest flooding period.


Seed is widely spread by wind and by sticking to animal fur. Buffelgrass may be established throughout the year, although its chances for establishment are better at onset of wet season. The light, fluffy wind-blown seeds are difficult to drill or to sow by hand, and should be mixed with fine soil or hammer-milled to beat off the bristles. Use larger seeds for better germination, and sow 1–2 cm deep. Usual sowing rates are 3–12 kg/ha; another recommendation is 6–8 kg/ha for drilling in rows and 12 kg/ha for broadcasting (Bogdan, 1977). Most of the data indicates that post-harvest maturation time of from a few to 18 months is required. Only seed that has been stored for at least 6 months should be sown, however, in Tanzania, 1-month old seed had a 90% germination rate, with the maximum of 92.5% being reached at 18 months (Bogdan, 1977). According to Reed (1976), germination is improved up to 70% by storing seed up to 2 years under dry conditions. Most seeds germinate within 24 hours. Buffelgrass is also propagated vegetatively from tuft splits or rhizomes in India and Bolivia. In Australian trials, the grass was successfully established by seed broadcasting without soil tillage into burnt, brigalow grass, yet other trials show seedbed preparation to be essential for reasonable establishment in denuded pastoral lands (Bogdan, 1977). Sowing whole clusters of spikelets almost invariably gives better results than sowing naked caryopses; in Tanzania, five-fold better seedling emergence was observed from clusters than from naked caryopses. In Australian trials, naked caryopses germinated in soil if freshly dehusked and mixed with superphosphate immediately before sowing (a 12-hour delay in sowing reduced germination) (Bogdan, 1977). Plants ratoon well and withstand repeated drastic defoliation, recovering fairly rapidly following rains. Crops also withstand cutting well (Reed, 1976). Close cutting or grazing (5–10 cm from ground level) is reported to give higher yields and better herbage quality than cutting at higher levels, and is reported to give reduced yields with frequent cutting along with reduced carbohydrate content and root volume (Bogdan, 1977). Green shoots often sprout from old, seemingly dry stems during the dry season, contributing to the volume of dry-season grazing. It is not advisable to top the stems after wet-season grazing. Manuring the field before sowing helps to establish a thick stand. The grass is usually benefitted by the addition of fertilizer P. Good responses to N and especially PN have been frequently observed in Australia and South Africa, but in Tanzania, when grown under low rainfall and on good soil, the benefit of N on C. ciliaris was only seen during exceptionally wet seasons. Where harvester ants are a problem, insecticides may be needed; the use of seed dressing harvester ants are with aldrin in Kenya and with lindane and aldrin in Australia has been found to be helpful (Bogdan, 1977).


Most strains mature a seed crop in 3–4 months when planted in 60 cm rows at onset of wet season (Reed, 1976). Establishment is slow and grass can be used 9–12 months after sowing (Bogdan, 1977). Seed is harvested by hand, or mechanically. Seed is not shed so readily as in some other tropical grasses so production and harvesting are somewhat easier. In South India, pastures are kept 5–40 years, and regular grazing is allowed from 3rd year onwards. Pastures are usually plowed after a shower at intervals of 3–5 years.

Yields and Economics

Seed yield is reported as 500 kg/ha (Duke, 1978). In Tanzanian trials, 150–210 kg/ha of seed were obtained (no N added). In Queensland, 8 kg/ha were obtained (without N, without irrigation); and 47–504 kg of seed/ha were obtained with the addition of from 84–672 kg N/ha. C. ciliaris is commonly used for reseeding denuded arid pastoral lands, and for improving worn-out pastures in Australia, India, Pakistan and E. Africa. This is a very important pasture grass in many parts of the tropical world, mainly because of its ease and low cost of establishment, comparatively high value and yield, extreme drought tolerance, stand persistance, and tolerance to crop pests, overgrazing and trampling by livestock. It is cultivated for permanent pastures and leys in Central and East Africa and northern Australia, and is an important forage grass in India.


According to the phytomass files (Duke, 1981b), annual productivity ranges from 1 to 26 MT/ha, but some strains give as high as 37 MT/ha, depending on the conditions. Total annual yields of green fodder vary from 34–56 MT/ha in three to four cuttings. Dry matter yields increase by 17% when about 96 kg N/ha is used annually (Reed, 1976). In Bogdan (1977) herbage yields are reported as 2–8 MT DM/ha, 10–20 MT green matter, and 3–6 MT hay/ha/yr.

Biotic Factors

The following fungi have been reported on buffelgrass: Beniowskia sphaeroides, Cerebella andropogonis, C. cenchroides, Claviceps sp., Fusarium heterosporum, Puccinia cenchri var. africana, Sorosporium cenchri, S. dubiosum, S. penniseti, Sphacelotheca panjabensis, Tolyposporium cenchri, Uredo cenchricola, Ustilago penniseti. It is also parasitized by Striga hermonthica. The following nematodes have been isolated from buffelgrass: Criconemoides sp., Helicotylenchus cavenessi, H. dihystera, H. microcephalus, H. pseudorobustus, Peltamigratus nigeriensis, Pratylenchus sp., and Scutellonema clathricaudatum.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Tuesday, December 30, 1997