Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Cenchrus setaceus (Fountain Grass) is a perennial tufted grass to 1 m tall with rough leaves rounded fluffy purple flower spikes to 30 cm long.
  • It is (or was) a popular tough drought resistant ornamental plant that has spread from gardens and amenity plantings.
  • It invades open areas, including degraded paddocks, and grassland open woodlands.
  • Common along roadsides and other transport corridors spreading in to native areas and pastures.
  • Has potential to invade other areas in temperate to warm temperate to semi-arid areas of Australia.
  • It can out-compete and suppress native vegetation and desirable plants and is unpalatable to stock and native animals.
  • Can be controlled by physical, mechanical means, cultivation and herbicides when actively growing.
  • It is difficult to control once established as seed can remain viable and germinate for up to 10 years.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Fountain Grass (Cenchrus setaceus) [Pennisetum setaceum] is a robust rhizomatous (with underground stem), perennial, forming large tussocks perennial grass with flowering stems to 1 m tall. The coarse stiff tough rough hairless leaves, are flat folded or inrolled, smooth and hairless (except at the very base near the sheath), and up to 60 cm long and to 4 mm wide. The leaf sheaths (part of the leaf rolled around the stem) with hairs along margins, ligules (a small  appendage where the leaf sheath meets the leaf blade) is about 1 mm long with lateral tufts to 3 mm. 

The flowers are numerous pale purple to pink, borne in a dense spike 10–30 cm long and 3–4 cm wide (including the bristles). Spikelets are solitary or in clusters of 2–3. Each flower spikelet contains several flowers 4–6 mm, and is surrounded by up to 25 thin stiff plumose bristles (bearing long hairs) 1.5–4 cm long with one bristle usually longer than all the others. 

Fruits (seeds) are contained within the flower.  Individual flowers fall as a unit surrounded by the bristles and enclosing the cylindrical grain (seed) which is smooth, wheat-coloured and about 1.8 mm long and 0.8 mm wide (Cunningham et al. 1981; Stanley & Ross 1989).

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

Flower colour

Purple, Pink

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Fountain Grass is a weed of disturbed areas near habitation, along drains and roads, around dams and on farms in degraded pastures and on rocky and stony areas (Cunningham et al. 1981; Stanley & Ross 1989). 

Are there similar species?

There are several introduced species of Cenchrus [as Pennisetum]. Two of these – Feathertop (C. longisetus) [as P. villosum] and African Feather Grass (C. macrourus) [as P. macrourum] – and a native species, Swamp Foxtail (C. purpurascens) [as P. alopecuroides], look superficially similar to Fountain Grass. The best diagnostic feature to separate these four species is whether the bristles surrounding the flowers are themselves plumose (hairy) or not.

Fountain Grass and Feathertop both have plumose bristles. However, they can also be distinguished by the colour of the whole inflorescence – purple or pink in Fountain Grass and creamy coloured in Feathertop. Both Swamp Foxtail and African Feather Grass both have bristles lacking hairs (Slee 2007, pers. comm.). Queens;and Overnemnt (2016) summerise the look-a-like species as follows: 

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).

African feather grass (Cenchrus macrourus) is a large long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 1–2 m tall) with very elongated, greenish or yellowish-coloured seed-heads. The 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).

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).

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).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Fountain grass is a highly invasive tufted grass. Once escaped, this grass can form dense stands (monocultures) that exclude all other plants. It has been used for soil stabilisation and is a weed of pastures, grasslands, and alongside transport corridors like railway lines, roads, tracks, paths and waterways. It can increase fire risk compared to other roadside weeds that accumulate less dry matter. Fountain grass is well adapted to post-fire regeneration, and burning may contribute to its invasion, with fires hotter than native grass fires resulting in damage to native plant species and communities that are not as fire tolerant. (Government Of South Australia 2021; Johnson undated).

Agriculture: Mainly invades degraded paddocks and similar areas. It is of little value to grazing due to its rough course leaves which make it unpalatable to stock

Native ecosystems: Fountain Grass forms dense swards and is regarded as highly invasive.  Fountain grass out-competes and suppresses native vegetation and greatly increases fire risk (DPI NSW 2019).  It invades grasslands, gassy woodlands, and degraded habitat, and mature flowerings plants are  also unpalatable to most if not all native animals. 

Urban areas: Plants are used as ornamental in gardens and along roadsides, and are often found in motel gardens or amenity plantings, becoming weedy along paths and roads near waterways and forms these dense infestations it can have high nuisance value, impeding both pedestrian and vehicular access.

How does it spread?

Fountain Grass seed is mainly dispersed by wind but it also spread by vehicles, humans, livestock, water and possibly birds. Whole plants are dumped as garden waste, contributing to its spread. Fountain Grass is sold in some states as a desirable garden species and this no doubt provides new avenues for establishment as a weed (Johnson undated; Weeds Australia undated; Slee 2007, pers. comm.).

What is its history in Australia?

Fountain Grass was probably introduced to Australia as an ornamental grass for horticulture. It has established and persisted for many years in areas near habitation and along some roadsides (Cunningham et al. 1981), first herbarium records from;   South Australia in 1903; New South Wales in 1912; Queensland in 1930.

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Fountain Grass is difficult to eliminate. Control may need to be repeated several times a year. The long-lived seeds make continued monitoring after treatment is essential. Research has shown that seeds of fountain grass can remain viable in soil for up to 10 years in the soil, implying the presence of a significant seed bank that makes continued monitoring after control treatment essential (Government of South Australia 2021).

Non-chemical control: Control should initially be directed to outlying populations followed by treatment of the core area. Small infestations of Fountain Grass can be removed by uprooting and removing and destroying seed-heads. Slashing and mowing cam help reduce the amount of seed heads produced, but it is a prolific seeder and this is a short term method only. 

Chemical control: Extensive infestations of Fountain Grass are probably best controlled with herbicides, combined with mechanical techniques (Johnson undated). Foliar spraying and wick-wipe are effective application methods.

Please see: Brisbane City Council (2021); DPI NSW 2019; Invasive Species Unit, Biosecurity SA (2018); 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)

Little information on the lifecycle of Fountain Grass in Australia is available. It is a summer growing perennial plant which becomes dormant in the winter months. Flowers are present from late spring to mid winter and seed-heads seen from August through to April (Cunningham et al. 1981; Johnson undated; Slee 2007, pers. comm.). Individual plants can live for up to 20 years. Seed can remain viable in the soil for at least seven to ten years years (Johnson undated).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

In Australia Fountain Grass has naturalised in all states and territories except Tasmania although cultivated records exist from Tasmania. 

Scattered across Australian Capitol Territory.

It is scattered throughout Queensland, New South Wales, Western Australia. 

In the Northern Territory, where it is only found in the southern arid regions. 

It is common in South Australia, across the southern temperate areas extending in to semi arid to arid areas (AVH 2021; eFlora 2021). 

In Victoria it is currently restricted to infested railway land in the Melbourne metropolitan area at East Richmond and Burnley (Faithfull 1998) and in some mallee areas (AVH 2021).

Where does it originate?

Fountain Grass occurs naturally in south-central, northern and eastern Africa and also in the Middle East (GRIN 2007; POWO 2021).

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 setaceus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?

  • Pennisetum setaceum (Forssk.) Chiov.
  • Phalaris setacea Forssk.
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides (L.) Spreng. (misapplied by Jessop, J.P. 1978, Flora of South Australia Edn 3. 1: 228.)
  • Pennisetum orientale Rich. (misapplied by Gardner, C.A. 1952, Gramineae. Flora of Western Australia. 1(1): 280.)

Does it have other known common name(s)?

African Fountain Grass, Tender Fountain Grass

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