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Pennisetum polystachion
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Panicoideae
Supertribe: Panicodae
Tribe: Paniceae
Subtribe: Cenchrinae
Genus: Pennisetum
Type species
Pennisetum typhoideum[2]
  • Penicillaria Willd.
  • Gymnotrix P.Beauv.
  • Catatherophora Steud.
  • Sericura Hassk.
  • Lloydia Delile [1844, illegitimate homonym not Salisb. ex Rchb. 1830 (syn. of Gagea in Liliaceae)]
  • Beckeropsis Fig. & De Not.
  • Eriochaeta Fig. & De Not.
  • Amphochaeta Andersson
  • Kikuyuochloa H.Scholz

Pennisetum /ˌpɛnɪˈstəm/[5] is a widespread genus of plants in the grass family, native to tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. They are known commonly as fountaingrasses (fountain grasses).[6][7][8][9] Pennisetum is considered a synonym of Cenchrus in Kew's Plants of the World Online.[10]


Pennisetum is closely related to the genus Cenchrus,[11] and the boundary between them is unclear.[12] Cenchrus was derived from Pennisetum and the two are grouped in a monophyletic clade.[13] 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. In 2010, researchers proposed to transfer Pennisetum into Cenchrus, along with the related genus Odontelytrum.[14] The genus is currently not accepted as separate from Cenchrus in Kew's Plants of the World Online database.[10]


Pennisetum alopecuroides
Pennisetum hohenackeri
Pennisetum orientale
Pennisetum pedicellatum
Pennisetum alopecuroides

The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families lists the following species as synonyms of Cenchrus:[2]


As currently envisioned, Pennisetum is a genus of 80 to 140 species.[7][11][12][14] The various species are native to Africa, Asia, Australia, and Latin America, with some of them widely naturalized in Europe and North America, as well as on various oceanic islands.[2]

They are annual or perennial grasses. Some are petite while others can produce stems up to 8 meters tall.[12] 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").[12]


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

Several species are cultivated as ornamental plants, notably P. advena, P. alopecuroides, P. orientale, P. setaceum, and P. villosum. The cultivar 'Fairy Tails' is a recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[15][16]


Invasive Pennisetum setaceum growing on a lava flow in Hawaii

Many Pennisetum grasses are noxious weeds, including feathertop grass (P. villosum) and kikuyu grass (P. clandestinum), which is also a popular and hardy turf grass in some parts of the world.

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.


  1. ^ Richard, Louis Claude Marie 1805. in Persoon, Christiaan Hendrik, Synopsis plantarum,seu Enchiridium botanicum, complectens enumerationem systematicam specierum hucusque cognitarum, page 72 in Latin
  2. ^ a b c d Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  3. ^ lectotype designated by Chase, Contr. U.S. Natl. Herb. 22: 210 (1921)
  4. ^ Tropicos, Pennisetum Rich.
  5. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book. 1995. 606–07.
  6. ^ Pennisetum. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).
  7. ^ a b Pennisetum. The Jepson eFlora 2013.
  8. ^ Pennisetum. USDA PLANTS.
  9. ^ Identified gaps for Pennisetum genepool. Archived 2011-07-25 at the Wayback Machine Crop Wild Relatives. CIAT.
  10. ^ a b "Pennisetum Rich". Plants of the World Online. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 15 November 2020.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b c d Wipff, J. K. Pennisetum Rich. The Grass Manual. Flora of North America.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ "Pennisetum 'Fairy Tails'". RHS. Retrieved 12 June 2019.
  16. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 107. Retrieved 12 June 2019.