Elephant grass

Elephant grass

Pennisetum purpureum

Common Name:

Elephant grass

Scientific Name:

Pennisetum purpureum

Alternative common names:

Napier grass.


Elephant grass is a robust perennial grass widely naturalised in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.  It has low water and nutrient requirements and therefore can thrive in otherwise uncultivated lands. It is an aggressive grass that grows rapidly, colonising new areas and forming dense thickets. It grows in summer. 

Additional Information

Where does this species come from?

Tropical Africa.

What is its invasive status in South Africa?

NEMBA Category 2.

Where in South Africa is it a problem?

Kruger National Park and subtropical regions.

How does it spread?

Spreads via wind, moving water and seeds attached to fur, clothing and vehicles. Also spread by humans moving plants or plant parts.

Why is it a problem?

Forms bamboo-like, densely tufted clumps that invade bushland vegetation.

What does it look like?

It is a robust perennial forming large, bamboo-like clumps, with culms (flowering stems) usually 2-3.5m high (up to 7.5m) and branched towards the top; stems grow up to 3cm in diameter near the base.

Leaves: Leaf blades are hairy, 30-120cm long and 1-5cm wide; leaf sheaths are glabrous or with stiff hairs.

Flowers: Usually yellow-brown in colour, more rarely greenish or purplish.

Fruit/seeds: The seedhead is spike-like (8-30cm long and 1.5-3cm wide) and very bristly.

Does the plant have any uses?

Ornamental and fodder.

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