African fountain grass

Pennisetum setaceum
Grass
Basal
Simple
Purple
Green

An upright tufted grass with very narrow leaves and flowering stems growing up to 1 m or more tall. Its long spike-like seed-heads (6-30 cm long) are reddish, pinkish or purplish in colour. These seed-heads contain large numbers of densely packed stalkless flower spikelet clusters. Each flower spikelet cluster is surrounded by numerous feathery bristles (12-26 mm long) and one significantly larger bristle (16-40 mm long). Its mature seed-heads turn straw-coloured or whitish and the seeds are shed with the feathery bristles still surrounding them.

Common names 
Also known as: African fountain grass, fountain grass, crimson fountain grass, purple fountain grass, tender fountain grass,
Family 
Poaceae
Deciduous 
No
Flowering time 
Summer
Native/Exotic 
Exotic
Origin 
Native to northern and eastern Africa and south-western Asia.
Notifiable 
No
State declaration 
Class 3
Council declaration 
Class C – Containment and reduction
Known distribution 

Widely distributed, with a scattered presence throughout most of Australia. It is most common near inhabited coastal areas in south-eastern Queensland, central New South Wales, south-eastern South Australia and south-western Western Australia. Present in other parts of these states and also recorded from Victoria and the Northern Territory. Naturalised overseas in southern Africa, New Zealand, southern USA (i.e. California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee, Louisiana and Florida) and on some Pacific islands (e.g. Fiji, New Caledonia, Hawaii).

Habitat 

A weed of roadsides, railways, waste areas, disturbed sites, open woodlands, grasslands, waterways, coastal environs, pastures, and rocky habitats in tropical, sub-tropical and warmer temperate regions.

Habit 

A densely-tufted, long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass with drooping leaves and stems usually growing 20-100 cm tall, but occasionally reaching up to 1.5 m in height.

Impact and control methods 

Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is regarded as an environmental weed in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia, and as a potential environmental weed in elsewhere in Australia. It was also recently listed as a priority environmental weed in at least one Natural Resource Management region, and appears in the Global Invasive Species Database.

Stem and leaves 

The flowering stems (i.e. culms) are upright (i.e. erect or slightly drooping) and either unbranched or sparsely branched. These stems arise from the base of the plant (i.e. the crown) along with the majority of the leaves. The leaf blades are linear in shape, very narrow (15-40 cm long and 1-3 mm wide), and somewhat rough to the touch (i.e. scabrous). They are mostly hairless (i.e. glabrous), but occasionally have a few hairs towards the base. Where the leaf sheath meets the leaf blade there is a small fringe of hairs (i.e. ciliate ligule).

Flowers and fruits 

The long and spike-like (i.e. spiciform) seed-head is actually a spike-like panicle with very short branches. These seed-heads are upright (i.e. erect) or drooping in appearance (6-30 cm long). They are quite feathery or bristly in appearance and borne at the top of the flowering stems (i.e. culms). Younger seed-heads are reddish, pinkish or purplish in colour and consist of large numbers of densely packed, stalkless (i.e. sessile) flower spikelet clusters. Each of the flower spikelet clusters contains 1-3 spikelets and is surrounded by numerous long feathery (i.e. plumose) bristles (12-26 mm long). However, one of these bristles is significantly longer than the others (16-40 mm long). The elongated (i.e. lanceolate) fertile flower spikelets (4.5-6.5 mm long) consist of a lower sterile floret and an upper fertile floret. Flowering occurs sporadically throughout the year, but mostly during summer. The mature seed-heads turn straw-coloured or whitish and the flower spikelets are shed from the seed-head intact, along with the surrounding bristles (i.e. involucre). The seeds themselves (i.e. the grains) are yellowish-brown in colour and smooth in texture.

Reproduction and dispersal 

This species reproduces by seed. These light and feathery 'seeds' are primarily dispersed by wind movement. They may also become attached to clothing, float on water, or be spread in dumped garden waste.

Similar species 

Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is very similar to African feather grass (Pennisetum macrourum), mission grass (Pennisetum polystachion), Deenanth grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) and swamp foxtail (Pennisetum alopecuroides) and relatively similar to elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and feathertop (Pennisetum villosum). These species can be distinguished by the following differences: fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) is a moderately-sized long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (50-150 cm tall) with relatively elongated, reddish or pinkish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the long bristles (up to 25 mm or more) are hairy (i.e. plumose).African feather grass (Pennisetum macrourum) is a large long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 1-2 m tall) with very elongated, greenish or yellowish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the relatively short bristles (mostly less than 10 mm long) are rough (i.e. scabrous).mission grass (Pennisetum polystachion) is a large long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 2-3 m tall) with very elongated, yellowish or brownish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the relatively long bristles (4-25 mm long) are hairy (i.e. plumose).Deenanth grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) is a moderately-sized short-lived (i.e. annual or perennial) grass (usually 30-150 cm tall) with elongated, pale purplish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the relatively long bristles (6-24 mm long) are hairy (i.e. plumose).swamp foxtail (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is a moderately-sized long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (usually 60-100 cm tall) with relatively elongated, purplish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the relatively long bristles (15-30 mm long) are hairless (i.e. glabrous).elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum) is a very large and robust long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (1-7 m tall) with elongated, greenish or purplish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is rounded and the relatively long bristles (10-16 mm or more long) are rough or hairy (i.e. scabrous to plumose).feathertop (Pennisetum villosum) is a relatively small long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass (15-100 cm tall) with relatively broad, oblong-shaped, whitish-coloured seed-heads. The main stem (i.e. rachis) of the seed-head is angular and the very long bristles (30-70 mm long) are hairy (i.e. plumose).