Melinis repens

red Natal grass


Melinis repens

(Willd.) Zizka 1988

pronounced: MEE-lin-iss REE-penz

(Poaceae — the grass family)

synonym — Rhynchelytrum repens

(Willd.) C.E.Hubb. 1934

pronounced: rin-KELL-ee-trum REE-penz

synonym — Tricholaena repens

(Willd.) C.L.Hitchc. 1936

pronounced: try-koh-LAY-nuh REE-penz

common name: red Natal grass

Melinis is from the Greek word μελινη (meliné), millet, and repens is Latin for ‘creeping’. In the synonyms, Rhynchelytrum is from two Greek words, 'ρινος (rhinos), ‘of a nose’, and χελυς (chelys), a tortoise, i.e., beaked scales, referring to the glumes and lemmas. Tricholaena is also from the Greek, θριξ (thrix), hair, and χλαινα (chlaina), a cloak, referring to the hairy coating on the spikelets.

This grass is a well-known sight on Magnetic Island. It grows in association with other grasses on almost every piece of waste land, and by fences and roadsides everywhere. This is an invasive species from Africa, now found world-wide in the tropics and sub-tropics, especially in dry, disturbed areas. When it ‘takes over’ an area, and is in full flower, it’s a pretty sight to see all the reddish spikelets swaying in the breeze. When it forms a dense stand and a fire goes through it, it burns with such great heat that the native plants are usually killed, while the Red Natal Grass is usually able to regenerate.

Melinis repens is a tufted species, up to about 90 cm or a little more in height, that usually behaves as an annual, but may persist for more than one season under good growing conditions. The flowering stems are often horizontal at their base and bend upwards at the nodes, so that stems are frequently branched from the lower nodes, from which roots often develop – hence the repens. The stem nodes are thickened, and are densely covered by short white hairs.

The leaves are rolled when young and are rough to the touch. The ligule is an inconspicuous fringe of hairs only about 1 mm long. The blades are flat, up to about 20 cm long, but only 2–10 mm wide, usually glaucous, glabrous dorsally.

The inflorescence is a loose open panicle (up to about 15 cm long) with fine branches. The spikelets (about 5 mm long) are covered by red to pink silky hairs that turn white as the flower matures. In late-flowering plants, these hairs may be cream in colour.

This species is not well used by animals and has little agricultural value other than providing cover on disturbed areas, and thus reducing soil erosion. It spreads very easily, both by rooting from the nodes and by seed.

The Sugar Cane Stem Borer Bathytricha truncata feeds on this grass.


Photographs taken 2009, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 4th February 2019