Feathertop

Pennisetum villosum R. Br.

Synonyms - Cenchrus villosus, Pennisetum longistylum.

Family: Poaceae.

Names:

Pennisetum is from the Latin penna meaning feather and seta meaning bristle and refers to the feather like bristles on the flowers, of some species in this genus.
Villosum is from the Latin villosus meaning hairy of shaggy and refers to the hairy nature of the seed head.
Feathertop refers to the feathery form of the seed head.

Other names:

Feather Grass
Feather Top Grass
Foxtail Grass
Long Style Feather Grass
White Foxtail.

Summary:

A perennial, dense, tussocky perennial grass with a white bristled to pale purplish, soft, feathery, bottle brush like seed head on short flowering stems and with long leaves and a wiry, branching rhizome.

Description:

Cotyledons:

One

Leaves:

Emerging leaf rolled in the bud.
Blade - Green to blue-green, parallel sided, flat or folded, keeled or channelled, firm, rough to touch, tapering to a fine, bristle like point, 70-600 mm long x 1-6 mm wide, overlapping. Hairless except near the mouth or with a few scattered hairs, or rough. Edges finely serrated. Prominently veined or ribbed, especially on the upper surface. Up to 6 leaves per stem.
Ligule - Short hairs, 1 mm long.
Auricles - None.
Sheath - Keeled, loose, flattened, striped, obvious veins, hairless except at the mouth and on the edges, shorter than the blades.

Stems:

Tufted, spreading and bending upwards or erect, 400-750 mm high, moderately slender, cylindrical or slightly flattened, smooth, hairy just below the flowering head other wise hairless. Unbranched or branching from the lower nodes. 1-6 nodes. Several stems arise from the short, branched, underground rhizomes. Stolons.

Flower head:

Somewhat loose to dense and feathery, soft, silky, spike like panicle, 20-120 mm long x 12-50 mm diameter (excluding the long bristles), ovoid or shortly cylindrical, erect to slightly nodding, pale green to cream or purple, silky. Main axis (rachis) slightly hairy, angular, roughened.
Below the spikelets there is a structure (involucre) composed of 20-70, long, pale, straight or zig zag bristles of differing lengths between 30 and 70 mm long with feathery, wart based hairs in the lower half and a few short, 30 mm, simple, roughened outer bristles.

Flowers:

Spikelets - Solitary or in groups of up to five on very short, up to 1 mm long hairy stalks (pedicels), narrowly egg shaped to conical, whitish-green occasionally purplish, 9-14 mm long, hairless, acute tipped and subtended by the involucre.
Florets - Lower one male of empty. Upper one bisexual.
Glumes - Lower glume tiny, translucent, circular obtuse tipped. Upper glume less than half the length of the spikelet, 2.5-4 mm long, narrowly egg shaped, membranous, 1-3 nerved, rough sharp point at the tip.
Palea - Lower palea similar to lower lemma, 7 mm long, 2 lobed, 2 keeled. Upper palea almost as long as the upper lemma, acute tip, shortly 2 lobed.
Lemma - Lower one, 8 mm long, membranous, narrowly egg shaped, roughened, 7-11 nerved, rough sharp point at the tip with palea and stamens. Upper one, fertile, longer, membranous, edges translucent, narrowly egg shaped, 5 nerved upwards, rough sharp point at the tip.
Stamens -
Anthers - Orange, 4-5 mm long.

Fruit:

Oblong, rounded tip, yellow to brown, occasionally with a purplish tinge, 3 mm long x 1-1.5 mm wide.

Seeds:

Enclosed in fruit.

Roots:

Many fibrous roots to 600 mm deep and a short, wiry, moderately stout, branching, rhizomatous rootstock to 200 mm deep.

Key Characters:

Plants tufted, Inflorescence a pedunculate, narrow, densely egg shaped, oblong or shortly cylindrical, pale or purplish, spike like panicle, 20-100 mm long. Bristles mainly 30-40 mm long and longer than the spikelets. Inner bristles of involucre,40-50 mm long and conspicuously plumose, giving the panicle a feathery appearance. Outer involucre bristles about 30 mm long. Spikelets not gaping exposing the caryopsis. Perennial.

Biology:

Life cycle:

Seeds germinate in early summer but rarely survive in the field. New shoots arise from the rootstock each spring and grow over summer and autumn. Rhizome expand over the same period to increase the size of the clump. The main flowering occurs over late summer and large amounts of seed mature in the autumn. It is semi dormant in the winter.

Physiology:

Reproduction:

By seed and rhizomes.

Flowering times:

Late summer to autumn in western NSW.
February to June in SA.
February to October in Perth.
Late summer to spring in WA.

Seed Biology and Germination:

Vegetative Propagules:

Rhizomes and rhizome fragments.

Hybrids:

Allelopathy:

Population Dynamics and Dispersal:

Its distribution around towns and settlements indicates that the main method of spread has been by intentional planting in gardens from which it has escaped.
Produces large amounts of seed which is spread readily by wind and water or attachment to passing animals however this is not as important as vegetative spread by its rhizome or fragments.
Road work and cultivation spreading soil contaminated with rhizomes is an effective method of spread.
It is capable of invading pasture, replacing more productive and palatable improved pasture species.

Origin and History:

North east Africa. Abyssinia. Arabia.
It was in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens in 1858.

Distribution:

ACT, NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.
There are a few scattered areas in the east and south east of Tasmania and on Flinders and Cape Barren Islands.
More frequent near homesteads.

Courtesy Australia's Virtual Herbarium.

Habitats:

Climate:

Temperate. Mediterranean. Semi arid and arid subtropics.

Soil:

Most abundant in sandy soils.

Plant Associations:

Significance:

Beneficial:

Ornamental.

Detrimental:

Weed of pasture, grass lands, roadsides, railways, rivers, streams and disturbed areas.
Unpalatable but young shoots are occasionally eaten.

Toxicity:

Not recorded as toxic.

Legislation:

Noxious weed of NSW and TAS.

Management and Control:

Thresholds:

Eradication strategies:

Summer cultivation provides effective control providing it is repeated regularly.
Sow vigorous and preferably perennial pasture species to compete with seedlings and reduce reinfestation.
Autumn applications of 2,2-DPA, glyphosate and fluazifop have provided good control with repeated applications.

Herbicide resistance:

Biological Control:

Related plants:

African Feather grass (Pennisetum macrourum)
Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum)
Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum)
Mission grass (Pennisetum polystachion)
Pearl Millet (Pennisetum glaucum)
Swamp Foxtail (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
Pennisetum pedicellatum

Plants of similar appearance:

Barley grass (Hordeum leporinum)
Canary Grass (Phalaris canariensis)
Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata)
Elephant Grass (Pennisetum purpureum)
Hares Foot Grass (Lagurus ovatus) is similar but hairy.
Slender Foxtail (Alopecurus myosuroides)
Marsh Foxtail (Alopecurus geniculatus)
Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis)
Timothy Grass (Phleum pratense)
Grasses.

References:

Auld, B.A. and Medd R.W. (1992). Weeds. An illustrated botanical guide to the weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P53-54. Photo.

Black, J.M. (1965). Flora of South Australia. (Government Printer, Adelaide, South Australia). P76. Diagram.

Burbidge, N.T. and Gray, M. (1970). Flora of the Australian Capital Territory. (Australian National University Press, Canberra). P68.

Ciba Geigy (1980) Grass Weeds 1. CIBA GEIGY Ltd, Basle, Switzerland. P117. Diagrams.

Cunningham, G.M., Mulham, W.E., Milthorpe, P.L. and Leigh, J.H. (1992). Plants of Western New South Wales. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P129. Photo.

Hussey, B.M.J., Keighery, G.J., Cousens, R.D., Dodd, J. and Lloyd, S.G. (1997). Western Weeds. A guide to the weeds of Western Australia. (Plant Protection Society of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia). P64-65. Photo.

Hyde-Wyatt, B.H. and Morris, D.I. (1980) The Noxious and Secondary Weeds of Tasmania. (Tasmanian Department of Agriculture, Hobart, Tasmania). P104-105. Diagrams.

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). #945.11.

Marchant, N.G., Wheeler, J.R., Rye, B.L., Bennett, E.M., Lander, N.S. and Macfarlane, T.D. (1987). Flora of the Perth Region. (Western Australian Herbarium, Department of Agriculture, Western Australia). P977.

Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson, E.G. (1992). Noxious weeds of Australia. (Inkata Press, Melbourne). P121-123. Photos.

Paterson, J.G. (1977). Grasses in South Western Australia. (Western Australian Department of Agriculture Bulletin 4007). P70. Diagram.

Acknowledgments:

Collated by HerbiGuide. Phone 08 98444064 or www.herbiguide.com.au for more information.