Cenchrus setiger

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Seedheads (false spike), and seeds.

Strongly tufted, drought tolerant perennial.

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Scientific name

Cenchrus setiger Vahl


Cenchrus setigerus Vahl
Cenchrus barbatus Schumach.
Cenchrus ciliaris var. setigerus (Vahl) Maire & Weiler
Cenchrus montanus Nees ex Steud.


Family: Poaceae (alt. Gramineae) subfamily: Panicoideae tribe: Paniceae.

Common names

birdwood grass, cow sandbur, (English);  anjan, mode dhaman grass , motha dhaman, kata -dhaman, kala-dhaman (India).

Morphological description

Tufted, non-rhizomatous (or shortly rhizomatous), erect or ascending perennial to 60 cm (rarely to >1 m) tall, similar to smaller types of C. ciliaris .  Leaf blades linear, 15-30 cm long, and 4-6 mm wide.  Panicle a green, maturing to light straw-coloured (mostly African origin) or dark purple (mostly Indian origin), false spike, 1.5-9 cm long and ca. 1 cm wide.  Seed units or fascicles are inserted along a zig-zag axis, each bur-like fascicle comprising a single spikelet or cluster of 2 or 3 spikelets, 3-4.5 mm long, surrounded by an involucre of short, stiff teeth 3.5-5 mm long.  180,000-350,000 seed units/kg.


Native to:
Africa:  Kenya, Tanzania, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt.
Asia:  Southern Iran, Yemen, India, Pakistan.
Open dry bush and grassland, usually on alkaline soils, sometimes on heavy black clays with impeded drainage.

Naturalized elsewhere in dry tropics and subtropics.


Primarily for permanent pasture.  Makes useful hay, but low yields.  Valuable standover feed in low-rainfall areas.  Some value for erosion control in arid and semi-arid land.


Soil requirements

Prefers light-textured, sandy soils;  adapted to a wider range of soils than is C. ciliaris .   Often found on gravelly areas and alluvial flats, and sometimes on heavy black clays with impeded drainage.  Occurs frequently on alkaline soils.  Seedlings more tolerant of salinity than those of C. ciliaris .


Adapted to arid and semi-arid climates (annual rainfall as low as 200 mm) with a long dry season;  responds quickly to light rains.  More drought tolerant than C. ciliaris .  Responds well even to light rain when temperatures are adequate for growth.  No record of flood tolerance, although some types originate from flooded land.


No records of temperature response, but probably similar to that of C. ciliaris , with optimum growth from 30-35ºC.  It is extremely tolerant of heat and drought but also survives frost.  Grows from sea level to 500-800 m asl between about 30ºN and S.


No record of shade tolerance.  Few trees or taller species in normal habitat.

Reproductive development

An early flowering short day plant.  Flowers November to May in the southern hemisphere subtropics.  Can grow and set seed freely despite limited rainfall .  Flowering can be initiated within 11 days of germination and seed produced within a month, more often 6-8 weeks.


Once established, withstands grazing well.  Best cut every 30 days at about 10cm.  Once established, can stand heavy grazing, even by sheep.  Should be allowed to set seed every two to three years to thicken the stand.


Fire removes the dry top growth, but plants recover well after rain.


Guidelines for the establishment and management of sown pastures.


Germination can improve for up to 2 years after harvest.  Can be aerially sown into ashes or through modified cereal drills into a prepared seedbed.  Hand broadcasting is suitable for small areas.  Seedlings vigorous.


Responds to nitrogen and phosphorous.  Uneconomical to fertilise in semi-arid and arid areas.  Pastures remain productive for many years unless overgrazed.

Compatibility (with other species)

No record, but will always compete for moisture in its normal environment.

Companion species

Grasses:  Could be planted with lower-growing Cenchrus ciliaris , cvv. American, Gayndah and West Australian.
Legumes:  Stylosanthes hamata , S. humilis , Vigna aconiitifolia, V. radiata, V. trilobata , Cyamopsis tetragonoloba.

Pests and diseases

No major pests or diseases.  Susceptible to cenchrus bunchy shoot (CBS) phytoplasma .

Ability to spread

Spreads slowly by seed, needing incorporation into the soil by animal treading for establishment.

Weed potential

Considered a serious weed of watercourses in Western Australia.

Feeding value

Nutritive value

Has high feed value during the pre-flowering stage, but much lower during the dry season.  9-19% CP and 65% IVDMD at early-bloom stage and IVDMD 40-50 % during the dry season.


Moderately palatable and readily accepted by stock (grazed in preference to Cynodon plectostachyus ).


No toxicity reported.

Production potential

Dry matter

Yields mostly from 1-1.5 t/ha (but ranging from 400-2,000 kg/ha) depending on growing conditions.  Grows longer into the season and produces higher yields than C. ciliaris cv. West Australian.

Animal production

In desert areas, carries 1 sheep to 2.5-6 ha.  With fertiliser in semi-arid areas, can raise live-weight gain from 30-50 kg/ha to 70-115 kg/ha, and further with mineral supplements.


Pseudogamous apomict (pollination necessary for endosperm formation and seed set).  2n = 4x = 36, and 2n = 54.  Rarely 2n = 34, 37.  Can hybridise with C. ciliaris .

Seed production

Seeds heavily.  Seed can be hand picked or harvested mechanically with cereal harvesters or special grass -seed harvesters.

Herbicide effects

No information, but probably similar to those for C. ciliaris :
"Can be controlled using a combination of glyphosate and ammonium sulphate, possibly in repeat applications.  Seedlings can be controlled using the grass -selective herbicide, fluazifop-p-butyl or dicamba, 2,4-D, 3,6-dichloropicolinic acid, triclopyr, tebuthiuron, or hexazinone.  Older stands, particularly freshly cut material can be at least reduced using hexazinone or tebuthiuron."



Other comments


Selected references

Bogdan, A.V. (1977) Tropical Pasture and Fodder Plants (Grasses and Legumes). pp. 75 - 76. (Longman: London and New York).

Internet links




Country/date released


'Black Kolukattai' India From Madras.  Dark seed head.
'Marwar Dhaman' (CAZRI-175) India Institutional collection.  Well adapted in arid (Thar Desert) and semi-arid regions of India.  Excellent for grazing due to thin stem and leafy foliage.
'Pusa yellow Anjan' India No information available.

Promising accessions

Promising accessions



CPI 17655 (Q 3466) Australia From Kenya.  Very persistent in semi-arid areas.