Pennisetum glaucum

pearl millet


Pennisetum glaucum

(L.) R.Br. 1810

pronounced: pen-ih-SEE-tum GLAW-kum

(Poaceae — the grass family)


common name: pearl millet

Pennisetum is derived from the Latin penna, a feather, and seta (sæta), a bristle, referring to the feathery bristles of the flowers of some species; glaucum is from the Greek γλαυκος (glaukos), bright, sparkling, gleaming; grayish, bluish-green (for plants, a white bloom on a leaf giving a grey-green appearance).

Millet is, in Australia, primarily regarded as bird-seed, and this is the origin of the plants photographed; they have germinated from seed thrown out on the ground to feed the birds. This plant is, nevertheless, a grain grown as a staple food crop in those parts of tropical Africa and India that are too hot, dry and sandy for sorghum production. It is a tasty grain that has a mildly sweet, nut-like flavour; it is nearly 15% protein, and is rich in fibre and B-complex vitamins; it is also high in minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and in phytochemicals, including phytic acid, which lowers cholesterol, and phytate, which is often associated with a lower risk of cancer.

This is an erect, robust annual grass with tillers, up to 3 or 4 m tall, tillering from the base, and sometimes branching from the lower nodes. It has an extensive root system, thick prop roots growing from the lower nodes. The stems of mature plants are 1 – 3 cm in diameter, the nodes glabrous to bearded. The leaf blades are 20   -100 cm long, 8 – 80 mm wide, ciliate, glabrous or hairy, linear to linear-lanceolate, flat, the apex attenuate, the base rounded or sub-cordate; the ligule is a fringe of hairs 2 – 3 mm long. The sheath is glabrous or with sparse to dense tubercular-based hairs, usually densely bearded near the collar. The panicle is spiciform, linear, elliptic or ovate; dense, 10 – 15 cm long, 1.5 – 5 cm in diameter; the peduncle is densely pubescent. The spikelets are in clusters of 1 – 9, subtended by a persistent involucre of many bristles, mostly 4 – 7 cm long; the stipe pubescent, 1 – 5 mm long; the spikelets obovate, 3 – 6 mm long, pedicellate. The caryopsis is globose to cylindrical or conical, 2.5 – 6.5 mm long, white, pearl-coloured or yellow to blue-grey or brown, occasionally purple.

Paleoethnobotanists hypothesize that the cultivation of millets was of greater prevalence in prehistoric times that that of rice, especially in northern China and Korea. Some of the earliest evidence of millet cultivation in northern China have been identified around 8300 – 6700 BC, and in southern China from about 6500 BC. They have found evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean peninsula dating from the Middle Jeulmun pottery period (c. 3500 – 2000 BC), and millet continued to be an important element in the intensive, multi-cropping agriculture of the Mumun pottery period (c. 1500 – 300 BC) in Korea. Millets and their wild ancestors were also cultivated in Japan around 4000 BC. Millet had made its way to the Black Sea region of Europe by 5000 BC.

Millet porridge is a traditional food in Russian, German and Chinese cuisines. In Russia it is eaten sweet (with milk and sugar added at the end of the cooking process) or savoury with meat and vegetable stews. In China it is eaten without milk or sugar, frequently with beans, sweet potato, and/or various types of squash; millet soup is commonly used by nursing mothers to aid in milk production and healing from childbirth. In Germany it is also eaten sweet: it is boiled in water, with apples added during the boiling process and honey added during the cooling process.


What a lovely word! They study plant remains from archaeological sites


Photographs taken 2010, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 7th March 2019