Sorghum plumosum

plume sorghum


Sorghum plumosum

(R.Br.) P.Beauv. 1812

pronounced: SAW-gum ploo-MOH-sum

(Poaceae — the grass family)

synonym — Sarga plumosa

(R.Br.) Spangler 2003

pronounced: SAR-guh ploo-MOH-suh

common name: plume sorghum

I am rather perplexed as to what to call this grass. In both the Kew Plant List and in GRIN, it is given as Sorghum plumosum, with Sarga plumosa as a synonym. In Australia, it seems to be more generally known as Sarga plumosum, since its reclassification in 1911 by A.J. Ewart (1872–1937), Government Botanist of Victoria and Professor of Botany at the University of Melbourne. He did a great deal of taxonomic work, published many books and papers, and restored the National Herbarium of Victoria to its former position as a leading centre of research, as it had been under von Mueller. Plumosum is from the Latin plumosus, feathery, with reference to the feathery appearance that the long hairs give to the pedicels of this species.

Whatever its correct botanical name, Plume Sorghum is a handsome grass, tall and stately, with an attractive seed head. It is a perennial grass, tufted, reasonably short-lived, and found in a number of places on Magnetic Island. The stands photographed were near the ‘steps’ walking track down to Picnic Bay. There are short rhizomes in the rooting system. The culms are erect and robust, 1 – 3 m tall, 3 – 7 mm in diameter. The leaf-sheaths are hirsute. The ligule is a very conspicuous ‘beard’, a fringed membrane up to almost 5 mm long. The inflorescence is a panicle, with branches tipped by a raceme. The spikelets are in pairs, one sessile and fertile, with its companion spikelet pedicelled.

This is a wild relative of commercial sorghum. Some of the wild examples have been dated back to 800 – 600 BC, and cultivated varieties to about 100 AD. Despite the antiquity of sorghum, it was unknown in the Mediterranean region in Roman times. By the 10th century it was widely grown in Iraq, and became the principal grain in Persia. Its cultivation spread to Egypt, and it was taken to Spain by the Moors, and spread to Christian Spain and France by the 12th century. It is well-adapted to growth in hot, arid or semi-arid areas. There are 4 groups: grain sorghums such as milo, grass sorghums for pasture and hay, sweet sorghums used to produce sorghum syrups, and broom corn, used for making brooms and bristles. Apart from its use for food and fodder, many local alcoholic drinks are brewed from it. African slaves introduced the plant into the USA early in the 17th century. It is an important crop there, used primarily as a maize substitute for livestock feed, as their nutritional values are very similar. A variety of unleavened bread known as bhakri made from sorghum is the staple diet in parts on India. In South Africa it is often eaten as a stiff porridge called mabele. In Arab cuisine, the unmilled grain is often cooked to make cous-cous, porridges, soups and cakes. The poor use it, together with other flours, to make bread. The seeds and stalks are fed to cattle and poultry. Some varieties are used for thatch, fencing, baskets, brushes and brooms, and stalks are used as fuel.


Photographs taken at Hawkings Point 2010
Page last updated 6th April 2019