T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Pennisetum setaceum (African Fountain Grass)

Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Pennisetum
Species: P. setaceum
Binomial name: Pennisetum setaceum
Common names: African Fountain Grass, Fountain Grass, Crimson fountain grass

Pennisetum setaceum perennial bunch grass that is native to open, scrubby habitats in East Africa, tropical Africa, Middle East and SW Asia. It has been introduced to many parts of the world as an ornamental plant where it has escaped and has become and invasive weed. In New Zealand it is listed in the National Pest Plant Accord species – nationwide. 

Pennisetum setaceum thrives in warmer, drier areas like bare sand, dune lakes, estuaries, coastline, river systems, low shrublands, dry and disturbed forest where it is a treat to native species. It has the potential to cause accretion of sand and changing the habitat, leading to erosion or flooding elsewhere, loss of dune lakes and wetlands. It also tends to increase the risk of intense wildfires, to which it is well adapted, thus posing a further threat to certain native species. It also harbours rodents.

Pennisetum setaceum is a perennial, clump-forming grass growing up to 1 m tall. It develops deep fibrous roots and short rhizomes which form new aerial shoots and roots. The very thin leaves are a light green and are tough and harsh. The round, purplish-white stems are erect and are up to 1 m tall. Flowerhead are brush like, dense, narrow, bristly, purple-brown, 10-20 cm long, 10-20 mm diameter, containing many seeds, each with 20 mm bristles.
It spreads by creeping rhizomes, by seed been carried by water, by wind, clothing, animals, rhizome fragments by soil movement, machinery, road graders. It is also spread when the flower heads that are used in floral arrangements are thrown out.