Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Longstyle Feather Grass (Cenchrus longisetus) is a tufted perennial grass that grows to 90 cm high with a conspicuously feathery flower head.
  • It is a mostly urban weed, which is found in gardens, roadsides, footpaths, creek banks, degraded pastures and neglected areas, and occurs in all states and the Australia Capital Territory.
  • It spreads by growth and translocation of its rhizomes.
  • Longstyle Feather Grass is unpalatable to stock, reduces grazing area and contaminates wool.
  • Control methods for Longstyle Feather Grass include cultivation and herbicides.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Longstyle Feather Grass (Cenchrus longisetus) [as Pennisetum villosum] is a dense rhizomatous tufted perennial grass that grows up to 70 cm high. The dense fibrous roots grow down to 60 cm, rising from a wiry branching rootstock, with strong branching rhizomes (horizontal roots just under the soil surface) in the upper 20 cm (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). The stems are upright, also growing to 90 cm high, and are often branched at the lower nodes, with just a few hairs below the flower head. The flat green or blue-green leaves are strongly ribbed, to 30 cm long and 2–6 mm wide. They flat leaves can be folded, smooth in the upper part and sometimes hairy at and towards the base, with finely serrated edges, with up to 6 leaves per stem. The ligule (the structure where the leaf sheath and blade meet) is dense with short, soft hairs to 1 mm long and these hairs continue along the edges of both the leaf sheath and blade.  (Paterson 1992; Thorp & Wilson 1998 -; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Jessop et al. 2006; VicFlora 2016).

The flower head is pale greenish to cream, sometimes tinged with purple, spike-like, branched and feathery, 3–12 cm long and 1–4 cm wide. The flower spikelets are whitish green,  or cream, occasionally purplish, to 14 mm long and 1.5 mm wide, in groups of 1-5 and surrounded by a ring of much longer (3-7 cm) unequal bristles, feather-like in the lower half. When mature, the clusters of spikelets fall as units, including the bristles (Paterson 1992; Thorp & Wilson 1998 -; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Jessop et al. 2006).

The seeds are yellow-brown, oblong, in shape and rounded at the apex, 3 mm long and 1-1.5 mm wide (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

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

Flower colour

Green, Cream, Purple

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Longstyle Feather Grass prefers moister areas of southern Australia. It is a mostly urban weed which invades disturbed soils, especially sandy loams, on degraded pastures, roadsides, footpaths, creek banks and neglected areas. It is sometimes cultivated in gardens (Western Australian Herbarium 1993; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2008).

Are there similar species?

Longstyle Feather Grass can be distinguished from other grass species with a spike-like, feathery flower head by its long bristles, three or more times longer than the spikelets (most other similar species have bristles only a little longer than the spikelets) (Jessop et al. 2006).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Longstyle feather grass is not eaten by livestock but can take over pastures, lawns, vineyards, roadsides, railways, rivers, streams and creeks, open and degraded areas .

Agriculture: Longstyle Feather Grass is unpalatable to stock and able to increase in infested pastures. It spreads in pasture, successfully competing with desirable pasture plants and therefore reducing the grazing area, leading to dominance of the weed species where it occurs (Thorp & Wilson 1998 – ; Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Around Inverell in New South Wales it is a contaminant of wool (North West Weeds 2007).

Native ecosystems: Occupies degraded roadside vegetation and can invade riparian vegetation especially in drier areas, replacing native and desirable species. ‘It may occasionally become an environmental weed of grassy woodlands and grasslands, and can occur in coastal areas and along creeks and river banks (Parsons & Cuthbertson 1992). 

Urban areas: Longstyle feather grass has been frequently cultivated as an ornamental grass in Australia, and is often a weed of footpaths and vacant land.

How does it spread?

The spread of Longstyle Feather Grass is mainly the result of cultivation and road grading, which disperses fragments of rhizomes to other areas. Localized rhizome growth increases the size and density of existing colonies. Dispersal by seed is less important due to poor seedling establishment. Nevertheless, the bristles on the spikelets enable them to attach themselves to animals, clothing and bags. They may also be moved in water and wind, in particular, on air currents created by passing vehicles and in dumped garden waste (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

What is its history in Australia?

Longstyle Feather Grass was first recorded in Australia in 1858, in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, with the first herbarium record in Australia from Melbourne in 1887 (AVH 2021). It was probably introduced as a garden ornamental plant (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Control methods for Longstyle Feather Grass include cultivation (removal of plant) and herbicides. 

Non-chemical control: This is a tough deep rooted grass and not recommended for hand weeding with tools unless plants are young and the underground rhizomes (rooting stems) can be removed. Cultivation must be thorough and repeated regularly to remove all rhizome fragments (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

Chemical control: Herbicides can be applied through a rope wick applicator or via spot spraying when plant is actively growing (DPI NSW 2019). Similar methods for application and timing can be employed for other tough summer growing tussock grasses.

Please see DPI NSW (2019) and 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 Longstyle Feather Grass is from the crown and rhizomes rather than the seeds. Seeds germinate in early summer but the seedlings rarely survive in the field. Flowering occurs in late summer and seeds mature in March and April. The plants become more-or-less dormant over winter and do not completely dry out during this period. New shoots develop from the crown and along the rhizomes during the following spring and summer (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). However in the Inverell district in New South Wales Longstyle Feather Grass is regarded as a very invasive prolific seeder, spreading quickly (North West Weeds 2007).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Longstyle Feather Grass occurs in all states and territories except the Northern Territory. 

In Queensland it seems to be limited to the south east of the state particularly the eastern Darling Downs.

In New South Wales it is scattered throughout the eastern part of the Western Slopes and Plains extending to parts of the Tablelands and the North and Central Coasts. It has a scattered distribution in the Australian Capital Territory. 

In Victoria it is widespread as a minor weed of roadsides in urban areas and along the coast but in now found throughout the state. 

In South Australia it is present in the south and south-eastern areas with a few records in semi-arid to arid areas near extra water.

In Tasmania it is currently limited to Flinders and Cape Barren Islands and around Hobart. 

In Western Australia it is mostly scattered along the coast from Geraldton to Busselton (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001; Tasmania Department of Primary Industries and Water 2008 AVH 2021).

Where does it originate?

Longstyle Feather Grass is a native of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. It is also naturalised in New Zealand, North and South America, Asia, South Africa, Italy and the Azores (Thorp & Wilson 1998 – ).

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 longisetus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Cenchrus villosus (R.Br. ex Fresen.) Kuntze
  • Pennisetum longistylum Vilm.
  • Pennisetum villosum R.Br. ex Fresen.

Does it have other known common name(s)?

Feathertop, Long-style Feather-grass, Feather Grass, White Foxtail Feather Grass, Purple Squirreltail Grass, White Foxtail

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