Buffel grass

Cenchrus ciliaris L.

Synonyms - Cenchrus pennisetiformis, Pennisetum ciliare

Family: - Poaceae.


Cenchrus is the Greek name for Millet.

Buffel grass.

Other Names:

African Foxtail

Black Buffel grass

Rhodesian Foxtail.


A vigorous, tussocky perennial grass, with low lying stems that bend upwards at the nodes and often forms roots at the nodes. It has a cylindrical seed heads that are often purple.





Emerging leaf rolled in the bud.

On stems more than at the base.

Blade - Parallel sided. Tapering to a fine point. Usually flat. 2-8.5 mm wide, 70-300 mm long. Usually hairless apart from sparse long hairs near the sheath. Never hairy on the margins. Green to blue. Rolls when drying.

Ligule - Hairy rim.

Auricles - None.

Sheath - Flattened. Often hairy on the lower leaves.


300-1200 mm high. Bending upwards from knees at nodes near the base. Many branched and low lying near the base. Tussocky. Tough. Smooth. Slender. Hairless. Straggly. Many smooth, hairless nodes. Roots at the nodes. Sometimes stoloniferous. Rhizomatous.

Flower head:

Not spiny. Dense. Cylindrical, erect to slightly curved, spike-like panicle. 20-150 mm long by 10-26 mm wide. Purplish or occasionally very light green to white. Bristles in 2 series, outer ones fine and rough, inner ones broad and joined and hairy near the base. Composed of a large number of spikelets groups (involucres).


Spikelets - In groups of 1-3 or rarely 4, 4-5 mm long, attached to main stem by very short stalks. (Individual spikelets are stalkless). Enclosed in a ring of hairy bristles joined at the base, 5-15 mm long, which fall with the spikelet group at maturity.

Florets - 1 fertile floret per spikelet.

Glumes - 2. First glume is 1-3 mm long by 1 mm wide and 1 nerved, and usually smaller than the second. Second glume is 1.3-3.4 mm long, 1-3 nerved.

Palea - Second (fertile) palea hardened.

Lemma - Second (fertile) lemma hardened. First and second lemmas are 2.5-5 mm long, 5-6 nerved with a minute awn.

Stamens -

Anthers -



Egg shaped, 1.4-1.9 mm long by 1 mm wide.


Rhizomes. Fibrous feeder roots. Rough, stout, woody rootstock. Deep rooted.

Key Characters:

Seed head is not spiny.


Life cycle:

Perennial. Flowers in October to autumn. Summer growing.


Requires high phosphorus levels for longevity.

Sensitive to frost, but re shoots readily.

Sensitive to over grazing.

Drought tolerant once established.


By seed.

Flowering times:

October in SA.

Summer to autumn in NSW.

Most of the year in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Seed produced without fertilisation (apomictic).

Seed appears to last in the soil for more than 5 years (Dixon pers comm.)

Vegetative Propagules:



Produces toxins that affect the growth and germination of other plants.

Used to help control Mesquite.

Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Establishes in very wet summers.

Origin and History:

Africa, Canary Islands, Asia, India and Madagascar.

Planted as a pasture grass.






Semi arid and sub humid areas. Summer dominant rainfall areas. Drier areas.


High phosphorus soils. Red earth soils, unstable sandy areas, red sandy loams.

Plant Associations:

Bimble Box. Often grows under trees where the soil phosphate levels are higher.



Fodder and sown pasture grass. Young growth is more palatable than older growth.

Soil stabiliser.

Used to help control Mesquite.


Weed of roadsides, drains, waterways, river banks, rotation crops, grasslands and disturbed areas. It often displaces native vegetation in low rainfall and desert areas.


May contain toxic quantities of oxalates.

Has affected horses in spring where little other forage was available. Cattle and sheep in the same areas were not affected.


Ill thrift, lameness, swelling of the head, harsh coats, wasting, lowered work tolerance, shortened gait, lying down and difficulty rising.


Don't allow horses to graze for long periods in Buffel Grass dominant areas.

Calcium supplements may be useful in Buffel Grass areas.



Management and Control:

Glyphosate and the "fop" grass selective herbicides give good control.

Haloxyfop appears to provide better control than fluazifop (Dixon pers comm.)


Eradication strategies:

Graze heavily and don't fertilise with phosphorus.

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Related plants:

Birdwood grass(C. setiger)

Fine bristled Burrgrass (C. brownii)

Gallons Curse (C. biflorus)

Hillside Burrgrass (C. caliculatus)

Mossman River grass (C. echinatus)

Spiny Burrgrass (C. incertus, C. longispinus)

Plants of similar appearance:


Black, J.M. (1978). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P214. Diagram.

Ciba Geigy (1980) Grass Weeds 1. CIBA GEIGY Ltd, Basle, Switzerland. P28. Diagrams.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P72. Diagram. Photo.

Everist, S.L. (1974). Poisonous Plants of Australia. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney). P305-307.

Lamp, C. and Collet, F. (1990). A Field Guide to Weeds in Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne).

Lazarides, M. and Hince, B. (1993). CSIRO handbook of economic plants of Australia. (CSIRO, Melbourne). #277.4.


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