African feather grass (Cenchrus macrourus)



African feather grass is a highly invasive clump-forming perennial grass, capable of rapid spread due to its vigorous rhizome system. It can form dense infestations that completely eliminate all other plants. Young plants are very ornamental and in the past were planted in gardens. Large infestations reduce biodiversity, block access to waterways and present a significant fire hazard.


African feather grass is native to South Africa. It is a serious weed in New Zealand and small areas have been reported in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. The impact in Australia at present is minimal with only isolated infestations.


Flowering takes place in late spring and summer with seeds maturing in February and March. African feather grass can spread by seed but seedlings are rarely found in the field. The bristles on the seed are well equipped to cling to clothing and bags, and to the wool and hair of animals. Seed is also spread readily by water which accounts for infestations along streams. Wind dispersal is of some local importance.

Most spread is by rhizomes which grow rapidly in spring and summer, depending largely on available moisture. The rhizome develops new roots and shoots away from the parent plant, and areas can be rapidly covered in African feather grass.

Plants become dormant in winter, with new shoots being produced from rhizomes and crowns each spring.

Rhizomes are spread by cultivation equipment, road graders and other machinery. Some spread can be attributed to human interest in the plant for dried flower arrangements and for ornamental purposes in landscaping.


African feather grass is an erect perennial grass, sometimes over 2 m high.


The stems are erect, unbranched and cylindrical.


The light green leaves grow to 1.2 cm wide and are ribbed on the upper surface. They are a darker green on the lower surface and sometimes purplish along the edges and tips. The leaves grow from the base of the plant to 1.2 m high, are slightly curled and sometimes drooping. They emerge inrolled, later becoming flattened but the tips remain inrolled. In cross section, the leaves are slightly curved and the edge has fine serrations.


An erect or drooping long thin spike-like panicle which is a purplish yellow or brown. The spike is 10 to 40 cm long and 1 to 2 cm diameter. The seed head is made up of numerous florets that are 5 to 7 mm long and surrounded by feather-like serrated bristles mostly to 1 cm long.


African feather grass has an network of fibrous roots which grow to a depth of 1 m. It also has sturdy rhizomes about 7 mm in diameter and up to 2 m in length. The rhizomes are partly enclosed in a sheath and occur from just below the soil surface to a depth of 30 cm.


African feather grass prefers sub-tropical to warm-temperate climates and grows on open well drained soils. Established plants are relatively drought resistant. It is commonly found along banks of rivers and creeks, roadsides and waste areas where adequate moisture is available.


Author: John Hosking.

Prepared by: Annie Johnson and Elissa van Oosterhout.


Hosking, J. R., Sainty, G., Jacobs, S. and Dellow, J. (in prep) The Australian WEEDbook.

Parsons, W.T. and Cuthbertson. E.G. (2001) Noxious Weeds of Australia 2nd ed., CSIRO publishing.

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Control of African feather grass requires multiple cultivations, herbicides and pasture improvement. Repeated treatments over a long period of time are required to exhaust the reserves in the rhizomes.

A key to African feather grass control is plant competition from desirable plant species with the emerging African feather grass plants. This includes perennial pastures in grazing areas and suitable shrubs or trees along waterways, waste areas and roadsides.

Herbicide options

Contact your local council weeds officer for control advice for African feather grass (Cenchrus macrourus).

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Biosecurity duty

The content provided here is for information purposes only and is taken from the Biosecurity Act 2015 and its subordinate legislation, and the Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans (published by each Local Land Services region in NSW). It describes the state and regional priorities for weeds in New South Wales, Australia.

Area Duty
All of NSW General Biosecurity Duty
All plants are regulated with a general biosecurity duty to prevent, eliminate or minimise any biosecurity risk they may pose. Any person who deals with any plant, who knows (or ought to know) of any biosecurity risk, has a duty to ensure the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable.

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Reviewed 2014