Quick Facts

Quick facts

  • Mossman River Grass (Cenchrus echinatus) is an upright and loosely tufted short-lived annual grass that grows to 25-60 cm tall.
  • It reproduces by seeds, which are mostly spread when the spiny 'burrs' encasing them become attached to animals, vehicles and clothing or are dispersed by water.
  • It is a serious weed of maize, sugarcane, cotton, peanuts and pastures and sometimes orchards, vineyards, vegetable soybean crops.
  • Control methods are most successful when they prevent seeding.

What Does It Look Like?

What is it?

Mossman River Grass (Cenchrus echinatus) is mostly an upright and loosely tufted short-lived annual grass, usually growing 25-60 cm tall, but occasionally up to 100 cm in height. The leaf blades are 5-25 cm long and 3-12 mm wide and usually have some hairs present, particularly along their margins. The leaf sheaths, especially those on younger plants and lower stems often have a reddish or purplish-coloured tinge. The flower head is spike-like in appearance and is 3-10 cm long. This seed-head consists of 5-50, stalkless, burr-like structures which are 4-10 mm in size, each bearing many sharp rigid spines that are 2-5 mm long and also hairy bristles. These burrs contain a cluster of two to four flower spikelets and each flower spikelet usually produces a single seed. The burrs are a reddish or purplish-green colour when young but turn straw-coloured or dark brown as they mature. They usually detach from the flowering stem entire. The egg-shaped, brownish coloured seeds are 1.5-3.0 mm long and 1.3-2.2 mm wide and are well hidden within the burrs (Navie 2004).

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

Flower colour

White, Purple, Green, Red Brown

Growth form (weed type/habit)


Where it currently grows? Preferred habitat

Mossman River Grass is a weed of tropical, sub-tropical, semi-arid and arid climates that infests footpaths, urban parks, lawns, roadsides, disturbed sites, waste areas, coastal areas, waterways, wetlands, pastures and crops (Navie 2004).

Are there similar species?

Mossman River Grass is very similar in appearance to Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) and the Spiny Burrgrasses (Cenchrus spinifex [as Cenchrus incertus] and Cenchrus longispinus). Mossman River Grass can be distinguished from these species by the stalkless burr found on seed heads which have one row of larger flattened spines. Spiny Burrgrass (Cenchrus spinifex) [as Cenchrus incertus] has burrs that are almost stalkless with several rows of larger flattened spines. Spiny Burrgrass (Cenchrus longispinus) has shortly stalked burrs with several rows of larger flattened spines. Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) has seed-heads that do not produce spiny 'burrs'. Instead, its seed-heads bear flower spikelet clusters that have numerous long stiff bristles (Navie 2004).

Why Is It A Weed?

What are its impacts?

Mossman River Grass is a serious weed of maize, sugarcane, cotton, peanuts and pastures and sometimes orchards, vineyards, vegetable and soybean crops. Because of its quick growth, it is a vigorous competitor for light, moisture and nutrients. The spiny burrs can cause injury and inconvenience to people when present in crops and as a result slow down the harvest, increasing costs. It may contaminate the wool of sheep, reducing its value. The burrs can also cause injury to stock, horses and dogs (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

How does it spread?

Mossman River Grass reproduces by seeds, encased in spiny 'burrs', which are mostly spread when the burrs become attached to animals, vehicles and clothing. These 'burrs' may also be dispersed by water and in contaminated agricultural produce (Navie 2004).

What is its history in Australia?

Mossman River Grass was possibly introduced in to Queensland in the 1860s during the gold rush period, although it's mode of entry is obscure (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001).

How To Manage It?

Best practice management

Mossman River Grass can be controlled through physical and chemical means by preventing seed production (before burrs appear) (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Please see the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for chemical information http://www.apvma.gov.au 

Plants can be hand pulled, burnt or controlled through cultivating the soil. Repeated treatments are required to control new seedlings as they emerge. Maintaining dense pasture cover also limits the spread of this grass as it does not establish well in dense pastures (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Good hygiene practices such as cleaning of machinery and vehicles aids in controlling spread (Mullen et al. 2005).

Does it have a biological control agent?


When does it grow? (lifecycle/growth calendar)

Mossman River Grass seeds germinate and seedlings establish at almost any time of the year, provided the area is free from frosts and moisture is available. However, most seeds germinate in the hot humid period of late spring and early summer. Vegetative growth at this time is rapid. The young plants form dense clumps and the plants produce erect flowering stems which form burrs between January and May. Most plants die off during winter except in the moist tropics where the tussocks may continue to grow throughout the year (Parsons & Cuthbertson 2001). Up to three seeds can be produced in each burr with the first formed seed capable of germinating in a few months. The other two seeds are usually dormant for up to three years (Mullen et al. 2005).

Where Is It Found?

Which states and territories is it found?


What areas within states and territories is it found?

Mossman River Grass is a very widespread plant that is present in all states and territories except Tasmania. The largest populations are concentrated in the northern parts of Western Australia and in the coastal regions of Queensland. It is scattered throughout the southern and northern parts of the Northern Territory, the inland areas of Queensland, the coastal areas of southern and western Western Australia, some parts of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. It has also been recorded from South Australia and northern Victoria (Navie 2004).

Where does it originate?

Mossman River Grass is native to Central America and southern North America (Navie 2004).

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 echinatus

Other scientific names (synonyms)?


Does it have other known common name(s)?

, Mossman Burr Grass, Mossman Burrgrass, Southern Sandbur, Field Sandbur, Sandbur, Sand-Bur, Burgrass, Burrgrass, Burr Grass, Hedgehog Grass, Hedge-Hog Grass, Buffel Grass, Innocent Weed, Seaforth Burr, Galland's Curse

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