Synonym(s): Cenchrus ciliaris, Pennisetum ciliare
Family: Poaceae (Grass Family)
Duration and Habit: Perennial Grass/Grasslike
Buffel grass is a perennial bunchgrass with erect culms 10-150cm tall. It can form thick mats or tussocks with dense, usually stoloniferous root systems. The leaf blades are bluish-green in colour, 3-30cm long, with soft hairs on the upper surface. The inflorescence is generally cylindrical in outline, 2-14cm long, and can be purple, gray or yellowish. The spikelets are solitary or clustered, and are surrounded by numerous bristles
Ecological Threat: Buffelgrass grows densely and crowds out native plants of similar size. Competition for water can weaken and kill larger desert plants. Dense roots and ground shading prevent germination of seeds. It appears that buffelgrass can kill most native plants by these means alone.
Biology & Spread:
Agriculture: Buffel grass has been widely introduced in the dry tropics and subtropics as a pasture grass, for erosion control and revegetation of arid areas.
On animals: The spiked seed-bearing involucre also increases spread by attaching to animals.
Wind: Wind is a major mechanism of dispersal of buffel grass seeds. Vehicle wind-assisted spread along roads is also evident in Uluru National Park.
On clothing/footwear: Seed is also easily spread by humans as they readily adhere to trousers and socks.
Water currents: Flood waters are a major mechanism of dispersal of buffel grass seeds. Buffel grass was not reported as spreading in Australia until the 1970s, when high rainfall and floods lead to rapid colonisation along creeklines and alluvial flats
History: Buffelgrass was introduced to the United States about in the 1930s as livestock forage. It was in planting trials at the Soil Conservation Service nursery in Tucson from 1938 to 1952. Several experimental plantings were done beginning in 1941 at Aguila near Phoenix. Most did not do well. (Another planting in Avra Valley west of Tucson in the early 1980s also died out where it was planted on flat ground.)
Records of collections in natural habitat were sparse until about 1980 when it began a rapid expansion. One example is Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where buffelgrass was rare before 1984. By 1994 it had occupied 20-25 square miles and was expanding rapidly. Few people other than botanists noticed it in Arizona before 1990. Today it is difficult not to see it in the southern half of the state.
U.S. Habitat: Buffel grass favours alkaline soils and within arid areas establishes best in pockets of high nutrients and moisture. Buffel grass does not spread rapidly in higher rainfall areas in Queensland, Australia, but is more invasive in the arid zones of central and western Australia where its resistance to fire drought and grazing makes it very persistant and dominate over native species by forming dense monocultures and displacing native species.
U.S. Nativity: Introduced to U.S.
Native Origin: Africa, Asia, and Europe
U.S. Present: AZ, CA, FL, HI, LA, MO, NM, TX
List All Observations of Pennisetum ciliare reported by Citizen Scientists
Buffelgrass can be controlled by manual pulling and herbicides.
The highest priority should probably be to control buffelgrass on roads outside of urban zones, because these are the seed sources for invasion of natural habitats. Second priority should go to the most valuable habitats such as parks.
Griffin, G.F., 1993. The spread of buffel grass in inland Australia: land use conflicts. In 'Proceedings of the 10th Australian Weeds Conference and 14th Asian Pacific Weed Science Society Conference'. Brisbane, Queensland. 6 - 10 September 1993. Brisbane, QLD., The Weed Society of Queensland. pp.501-504.
Martin, T. 2002.Cenchrus ciliaris L. The Nature Conservancy: Wildland Invasive Species Team.
Tellman, Barbara (ed.). 2002. Invasive Exotic Species in the Sonoran Desert Region. University of Arizona Press.
Invaders of the Sonoran Desert Region: a project of the Sonoran-Desert Museum
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