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Starr 061114-9870 Pennisetum polystachion.jpg
Pennisetum polystachion
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Panicoideae
Tribe: Paniceae
Genus: Pennisetum

About 80-140, see text

Pennisetum /ˌpɛnɨˈstəm/[1] is a genus of grasses in the family Poaceae, native to tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. They are known commonly as fountaingrasses.[2][3][4]


Pennisetum is closely related to the genus Cenchrus,[5] and the boundary between them is unclear.[6] Cenchrus was derived from Pennisetum and the two are grouped in a monophyletic clade.[7] Some species now in Pennisetum were once members of Cenchrus, and some have been moved back. A main morphological character used to distinguish them is the degree of fusion of the bristles in the inflorescence, but this is often unreliable. Authors recently proposed to transfer Pennisetum into Cenchrus, along with the related genus Odontelytrum.[8]

Invasive Pennisetum setaceum growing on a lava flow in Hawaii


As it now stands, Pennisetum is a genus of 80 to 140 species.[3][5][6][8]

They are annual or perennial grasses. Some are petite while others can produce stems up to 8 meters tall.[6] The inflorescence is a very dense, narrow panicle containing fascicles of spikelets interspersed with bristles. There are three kinds of bristle, and some species have all three, while others do not. Some bristles are coated in hairs, sometimes long, showy, plumelike hairs that inspired the genus name, the Latin penna ("feather") and seta ("bristle").[6]


The genus includes pearl millet (P. glaucum), an important food crop. Napier grass (P. purpureum) is used for grazing livestock in Africa. African fountaingrass (P. setaceum) is used as an ornamental plant.


Many Pennisetum grasses are noxious weeds, including kikuyu grass (P. clandestinum) and feathertop grass (P. villosum).

The herbage and seeds of these grasses are food for herbivores, such as the Chestnut-breasted Mannikin (Lonchura castaneothorax), the caterpillar of the butterfly Melanitis phedima, and the larvae of the fly genus Delia.

The genus is a host of the pathogenic fungus Cochliobolus sativus.


Species include:[2][6][9]


  1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book. 1995. 606–07.
  2. ^ a b Pennisetum. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).
  3. ^ a b Pennisetum. The Jepson eFlora 2013.
  4. ^ Pennisetum. USDA PLANTS.
  5. ^ a b Martel, E., et al. (2004). Chromosome evolution of Pennisetum species (Poaceae): implications of ITS phylogeny. Plant Systematics and Evolution 249(3-4), 139-49.
  6. ^ a b c d e Wipff, J. K. Pennisetum Rich. The Grass Manual. Flora of North America.
  7. ^ Ozias-Akins, P., et al. (2003). Molecular characterization of the genomic region linked with apomixis in Pennisetum/Cenchrus. Functional & Integrative Genomics, 3(3), 94-104.
  8. ^ a b Chemisquy, M. A., et al. (2010). Phylogenetic studies favour the unification of Pennisetum, Cenchrus and Odontelytrum (Poaceae): a combined nuclear, plastid and morphological analysis, and nomenclatural combinations in Cenchrus. Annals of Botany 106(1), 107-30.
  9. ^ GRIN Species Records of Pennisetum. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN).

External links[edit]