Panicum maximum

Guinea grass


Panicum maximum

Jacq. 1781

pronounced: PAN-ih-kum MAX-ih-mum

(Poaceae — the grass family)


common name: Guinea grass

Panicum was the name of an Italian panic-grass in Roman times, and maximum means, of course, largest. The common name ‘Guinea’ probably arose because it is a native of the bulk of the African continent. It is also found naturally in Madagascar, Mauritius and the Yemen, and is widely naturalized throughout the tropics.

Panicum maximum is a perennial tufted grass with a short, creeping rhizome. The stems of this robust grass can reach a height of up to 2 m. As the stems bend, and nodes touch the ground, roots and new plants are formed. The leaf sheaths are found at the bases of the stems and are covered in fine hairs. The plant remains green at least till late in the winter. The leaf blades have a prominent midrib and are up to 3.5 cm wide, and taper to a long, fine point. They have quite sharp edges. The inflorescence is a large, multi-branched, open panicle, up to 40 cm long, with loose, flexuous branches. The lower branches of the inflorescence are arranged in a whorl. The lower floret is usually male, with a well-developed upper bract enclosing the flower. The fertile (female) upper lemma is pale. Spikelets are green to purple. The seeds are oblong-shaped, and often purple. Seeds spread easily on the fur of native animals.

Although it is a weed here, in many parts of Africa it is considered to be the most valuable fodder plant. It has a high leaf and seed production, and is very palatable to game and livestock. It is widely cultivated as pasture and is especially used to make good quality hay. The spread of Guinea Grass is minimal or slow under grazed conditions, but it is a very effective colonizer in ungrazed areas, particularly where some form of soil disturbance has occurred. It spreads along watercourses and ungrazed roadsides, and has been listed as a weed in many countries. It is a particular pest in sugar-cane fields, due to its ability to grow under shaded conditions. The plant becomes very stemmy if not cut or grazed frequently.

The seeds are highly palatable to many species of birds. If it is planted in containers in urban gardens, it will often attract flocks of small seed-eating birds, and provide a much-needed food source for them in an urban environment. It is also a host plant for:

      • the Orange Bush Brown butterfly Mycalesis terminus;
      • the Green Dart Ocybadistes walkeri;
      • the Nigger Orsotriaena medus;
      • the Dingy Bush Brown Mycalesis perseus;
      • the Cedar Bush Brown Mycalesis sirius; and
      • the Sugar Cane Stem Borer Bathytricha truncata.


Photographs taken 2009, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 16th February 2019