feathertop

Pennisetum villosum
Grass
Basal
Simple
White
Green

An upright and long-lived grass usually growing only 15-70 cm tall. Its narrow leaf blades are flat or folded with rough margins. Its seed-heads are conspicuously feathery and spike-like in appearance (2-12 cm long and 1-2 cm wide). These seed-heads turn from pale green or whitish-green to straw-coloured or whitish as they mature. Their numerous flower spikelets are surrounded by a ring of long whitish coloured bristles (3-7 cm long). Its mature seeds are shed enclosed within the ring of bristles.

Common names 
Also known as: feathertop, feather grass, long styled feather grass, purple squirreltail grass, white foxtail,
Family 
Poaceae
Deciduous 
No
Flowering time 
Summer
Native/Exotic 
Exotic
Origin 
Native to north-eastern Africa (i.e. Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) and the Arabian Peninsula (i.e. Yemen).
Notifiable 
No
Council declaration 
SIL – Special Investigation List
Known distribution 

Widely naturalised in southern and eastern Australia. It is most widespread and common in southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, south-eastern South Australia and in the coastal districts of south-western and western Western Australia. Also present in northern Queensland, and in other parts of South Australia and Western Australia. It was also naturalised in the ACT, but has not been collected there for more than 30 years. Naturalised overseas in some parts of the USA (i.e. California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia and Michigan) and in Hawaii.

Habitat 

A weed of pastures, roadsides, footpaths, parks, waste areas, disturbed sites and waterways in semi-arid, sub-tropical and temperate regions.

Habit 

An upright (i.e. erect or ascending) or arching and densely tufted long-lived (i.e. perennial) grass usually growing 15-70 cm tall, but occasionally reaching up to 90 cm in height.

Impact and control methods 

Feathertop (Pennisetum villosum) is regarded as an environmental weed in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia.

Stem and leaves 

The relatively slender flowering stems (i.e. culms) are slightly bent or upright (i.e. erect) at first. These stems are mostly hairless (i.e. glabrous) and are often branched near the base of the plant. They also often become arched or droop as the seed-heads mature. Leaf sheaths and leaf blades are mostly hairless (i.e. glabrous), but there is a dense line of hairs (i.e. a ciliated ligule) where they meet and the area surrounding this junction is also sometimes hairy (i.e. pubescent). The narrow leaf blades (6-30 cm x 2-6 mm in size) taper to a point at the apex and are either flat or folded with rough (i.e. finely serrated) margins.

Flowers and fruits 

The conspicuously feathery seed-heads (2-12 cm long and 1-2 cm wide excluding the bristles) are spike-like in appearance (i.e. a spiciform panicle) and oblong or cylindrical in shape. They are pale green or whitish-green in colour when young, sometimes slightly purple-tinged, and always turning straw-coloured or whitish as they mature. These seed-heads are borne singly at the tips of the flowering stems (i.e. culms) and consist of numerous small flower spikelets. The flower spikelets (9-14 mm long) are borne singly or in groups of 2-4 on very short stalks (up to 2 mm long) and are surrounded by a ring (i.e. involucre) of long whitish bristles (3-7 cm long) that give the seed-head its feathery appearance. Flowering occurs mostly during summer, but also from spring through to early winter. The oblong-shaped seeds (about 3 mm long and 1-1.5 mm wide) are shed enclosed within the ring of bristles (i.e. involucre) and are yellowish-brown or sometimes slightly purplish in colour.

Reproduction and dispersal 

This species reproduces by seed and vegetatively via creeping underground stems (i.e. rhizomes).Seeds are spread by wind, water, vehicles and also become attached to animals and clothing. The underground stems (i.e. rhizomes) are dispersed during cultivation, as a result of other soil moving activities (e.g. road construction and maintenance), or in dumped garden waste.

Similar species 

Feathertop (Pennisetum villosum) is similar to fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and swamp foxtail (Pennisetum alopecuroides) and relatively similar to mission grass (Pennisetum polystachion), Deenanth grass (Pennisetum pedicellatum) and African feather grass (Pennisetum macrourum). These species can be distinguished by the following differences: 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).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).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).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).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).