Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Feather Grass (Cenchrus macrourus) is an erect tufted dense perennial grass, sometimes growing to 1.5–2 m high with a 30 cm long thin fox-tail like flower head.
  • It is a weed of roadsides, river banks, pasture and waste areas.
  • African Feather Grass occurs in all states and territories except Queensland and the Northern Territory.
  • It reproduces and spreads mostly by rhizomes, but also by seed.
  • Dense infestations of African Feather Grass present a significant fire hazard, reduce biodiversity and block waterways.
  • It can be controlled using a combination of cultivation, pasture improvement and herbicides.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

African Feather Grass (Cenchrus macrourus) [as Pennisetum macrourum] is an erect, tufted, larger, perennial grass, sometimes growing to 1.5–2 m high. African Feather Grass has a network of fibrous roots which grow to a depth of 1 m. It also has sturdy rhizomes (underground stems) about 7 mm in diameter and up to 2 m in length. The rhizomes are partly enclosed in a sheath and occur from just below the soil surface to a depth of 30 cm (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). The stems emerge from a crown at ground level, are upright, cylindrical, sometimes with hairs on lower stems, and hairless above. The light green leaves grow to 50 cm long sometimes more, and 0.4–1.2 cm wide, flat to in-rolled. Leaves emerge rolled inwards, later becoming flattened with the tips remaining rolled and leaves sometimes slightly curled and drooping. Leaves are without hairs or a few near the base, and are ribbed on the upper surface, rough to touch on margins and near apex. They are a darker green on the lower surface and sometimes purplish along the edges and tips. The ligule (the structure where the leaf sheath and blade meet) is a fringe of hairs 0.5–1.5 mm long (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

The flower spike is a dense cylindrical panicle 8–30 cm long and 1 to 2 cm in diameter.  The flower spike is pale brown to straw coloured, often with a purplish tinge. It is erect and upright, and long and thin, and spike-like, like a narrow foxtail. The head is made up of 100s of flower spikes, 4–7 mm long that are solitary or paired, each subtended by numerous bristles. 

The seed head is made up of the numerous spikelets are 5 to 7 mm long and surrounded by feather-like serrated bristles 10–15 mm long with one bristle longer and thicker than the rest (Thorp & Wilson 1998-). The seeds are yellow to brown in colour and 5 to 7 mm long (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

For further information and assistance with identification of African Feather Grass contact the herbarium in your state or territory.

Flower colour

Yellow, Purple

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

African Feather Grass prefers subtropical to warm-temperate climates and grows on open, well drained soils (Johnson 2005). It grows in lowland grassland and open grassy woodland, along the banks of rivers and creeks, in seasonal freshwater wetlands, roadsides, pasture, and low-lying areas subject to flooding, spreading to drier surrounding areas and waste areas where adequate moisture is available (Blood 2001). It is often found on sandy soils (Thorp & Wilson 1998 -) and tolerates drought, wind, salt and grazing (Blood 2001). It requires full sun, with dense infestation only rarely occurring within shaded bushland environments (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002).

Are there similar species?

The distinctive long, thin form of the flower head readily distinguishes African Feather Grass from the similar tussock-forming Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002).  It as also similar to many other Cenchrus species.  Queensland Government (2016) distinguishes African feather grass (Cenchrus macrourus), a large long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 1–2 m tall) with very elongated, greenish or yellowish-coloured seed-heads, with main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the relatively short bristles (mostly less than 10 mm long) are rough (i.e. scabrous), from the following: 

Mission grass (Cenchrus polystachios) is a large long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 2–3 m tall) with very elongated, yellowish or brownish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the relatively long  bristles (4–25 mm long) are hairy (i.e. plumose).

Deenanth grass (Cenchrus pedicellatus) is a moderately-sized short-lived (i.e. annual or perennial) grass (usually 30–150 cm tall) with elongated, pale purplish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the relatively long bristles (6–24 mm long) are hairy (i.e. plumose).
swamp foxtail (Cenchrus purpurascens) is a moderately-sized long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 60-100 cm tall) with relatively elongated, purplish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the relatively long bristles (15–30 mm long) are hairless (i.e. glabrous).

Elephant grass (Cenchrus purpureus) is a very large and robust long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (1–7 m tall) with elongated, greenish or purplish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the relatively long bristles (10–16 mm or more long) are rough or hairy (i.e. scabrous to plumose).

Fountain grass (Cenchrus setaceus) is a moderately-sized long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (50–150 cm tall) with relatively elongated, reddish or pinkish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the long bristles (up to 25 mm or more) are hairy (i.e. plumose).

Feathertop (Cenchrus longisetus) is a relatively small long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (15-100 cm tall) with relatively broad, oblong-shaped, whitish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the very long bristles (30-70 mm long) are hairy (i.e. plumose).

For further help see: Flora Vic (2016);  PlantNET (2021). 

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

African Feather Grass has proved a useful plant for soil stabilisation, particularly around road verges (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). It is a weed of roadsides, waste areas, river banks and poorly maintained pastures and is now regarded as a serious environmental weed. It is a highly invasive clump-forming perennial grass, capable of rapid spread due to its vigorous rhizome system forming dense infestations that completely eliminate all other plants. Young plants are very ornamental and in the past were planted in gardens. Large infestations reduce biodiversity, block access to waterways and present a significant fire hazard (DPI NSW 2019).

Native ecosystems: Dense infestations presents a significant fire hazard, reduces biodiversity by excluding native flora and blocks waterways and access to them (Johnson 2005). Large infestations are an ideal haven for rabbits and feral cats (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). A weed of low land grassland and grassy woodland, dense infestations suppress over-storey regeneration impacting native species’ biomass (Government of South Australia 2021). Dense infestation can displace grass species in already endangered native grassland situations, such as iron grass (Lomandra multiflora, Lomandra effusa) grasslands and the peppermint box (Eucalyptus odorata) grassy woodlands. Due to African feathergrass capacity to invade riparian vegetation and freshwater wetlands, it has impacts recreational activities through preventing access to streams and rivers. However, with the potential to block waterways and channels, it would negatively affect stream flows (Government of South Australia 2021).

Agriculture:  The leaves are quite tough and coarse and are low in nutritional content. They are rarely grazed by stock, even in times of low available feed (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). African feathergrass poses several risks to agricultural industries, especially in higher rainfall, perennial pasture grazing areas. Once established in a perennial pasture improving the pasture alone does not control the weed as under suitable conditions dense clumps can virtually eliminate all other plants. It is not known as a food source for native fauna or pest animals, but its dense growth provides habitat for rabbits. The seeds are equipped to cling to the wool and hair of animals, therefore there is potential to reduce wool quality (Government of South Australia 2021).

How does it spread?

Infestations of African Feather Grass in Australia are mostly spread by rhizomes, with only minor spread by seed. Rhizomes may grow up to 1.0 m from the parent plant, and give rise to many small plants along its length. Rate of spread is somewhat dependent upon soil types, with greatest spread in lighter, sandy soils, and slower spread in heavy clay soils. Any activity that leads to disturbance of soil around African Feather Grass may allow small sections of rhizome to be picked up and moved around, for example, in soil and mud attached to machinery and implements. Strict hygiene practices such as thorough cleaning of equipment that comes into contact with the plant or soil should be followed whenever any work is carried out in the vicinity of African Feather Grass plants (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). African Feather Grass produces large quantities of seed, although seed production varies from year to year. The seed is easily transported by animals due to the barbed bristles on the seed husk. It can also be moved on the wind for short distances, or carried along on water, such as periodic flooding of roadside channels (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). Some spread can be attributed to human interest in the plant for dried flower arrangements and for ornamental purposes in landscaping (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). The seeds exhibit a high level of viability, however, they appear to remain viable in soil for only a few years. Seedling establishment levels are quite low, possibly due to the seed's requirement for a fine soil cover and adequate moisture for successful germination (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002).

What is its history in Australia?

Introduction of African Feather Grass to Australia is believed to be as a result of contamination of hay brought back with horses after the Boer War. It was first recorded near Casterton in the Western District of Victoria in 1904 (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). However, it was in cultivation long before that with the first ciultivated collection from Sydney in 1898, and the first herbarium records of weedy plants collected in the early 1900s (AVH 2021). 

In New Zealand, African Feather Grass was apparently introduced as a soil binder at about the end of the 19th century and was later promoted as an ornamental plant because of its attractive long, feathery flower heads (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Control of African Feather Grass requires a program involving multiple cultivation, herbicide use and pasture improvement. Repeated treatments over a long period of time are required to exhaust the reserves in the rhizomes.

Non-chemical control: A key to African Feather Grass control is plant competition from desirable plant species with the emerging African feather grass plants. This includes perennial pastures in grazing areas and suitable shrubs or trees along waterways, waste areas and roadsides (Johnson 2005). Seedlings and small infestations can be dug up (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). Small plants can be physically removed using a spade or mattock. Care is required to remove all rhizome fragments from the soil. Larger plants may need heavy machinery such as an excavator to remove the whole plant. Excavated soil should be checked for all root and rhizome fragments or piled in an area that can be monitored for regrowth.

Chemical control: is an effective option for management of African Feather Grass.  Herbicides provide an effective follow-up treatment on excavated, slashed or burnt plants when regrowth is approximately 40 cm high. Spraying is recommended in spring to autumn following slashing in winter. Herbicide treatment should be followed up until there is no longer any regrowth (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). Application is via spot spraying, broadacre control, and labour intensive wiping leaves with tongs with herbicide in sensitive environmental areas. For large dense infestations a Slash or burn and spray regrowth (spring-autumn) can be effective.

Please see: Invasive Species Unit, Biosecurity SA (2018);  the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au  

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Most reproduction of African Feather Grass is by rhizomes which grow rapidly in spring and summer, depending on available moisture. A young plant starts to develop rhizomes when about 7 months old, and by 32 months can have produced a clump of new shoots over an area 1.5 m in diameter (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Flowering takes place in late spring and summer with seeds maturing in February and March. Seed is released from the parent in late summer and autumn. Eventually all the seeds fall away from the parent, leaving a characteristic bare flower stalk (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002). African feather grass can spread by seed, but seedlings arising from seeds are rarely found in the field (Johnson 2005). The plants become more-or-less dormant through winter, new shoots being produced from rhizomes and crowns each spring (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

African Feather Grass occurs in discrete areas of Australia. In New South Wales it occurs in the Sydney metropolitan area and in small patches near Bega. In Victoria it occurs in the far south-west around Casterton, at Coalville, near Moe in Gippsland and scattered plants have been on roadsides near Geelong. In South Australia, it is found in moist areas in the Adelaide Hills and near Penola and Mount Gambier in the south-east. There are several small patches near and south of Perth in the south-west corner, and it occurs in the Australian Capital Territory. In Tasmania it has occurred in the Huon and Derwent Valley (AVH 2021; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Navie 2004); each known infestation in Tasmania has been successfully treated and eradicated, however plants occasionally appear in other areas (Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2002).

Where does it originate?

African Feather Grass is a native of South Africa (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

National And State Weed Listings

Is it a Weed of National Significance (WONS)?


Where is it a declared weed?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the National Alert List for Environmental Weeds?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Is it on the Agricultural Sleeper List?


Government weed strategies and lists – Weeds Australia

Names And Taxonomy

Main scientific name

Cenchrus macrourus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

Cenchrus caudatus (Schrad.) Kuntze

Pennisetum macrourum Trin.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Bedding Grass

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