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Cenchrus prieurii (Kunth) Maire

Bull. Mus. natn. Hist. nat., Paris, sér. 2, 3: 523 (1931).
Poaceae (Gramineae)
Chromosome number
2n = 34
Origin and geographic distribution
Cenchrus prieurii is distributed from Mauritania and Senegal through the Sahel zone to Ethiopia; it also occurs in Arabia, Pakistan and northern India.
The grain of Cenchrus prieurii is an important food for some desert nomads; it serves as a famine food in Africa and India. The crushed or ground grain is made into porridge. In India the grains are eaten raw and are used, mixed with pearl millet, for making bread.
Cenchrus prieurii is valued for grazing; it also makes suitable hay and silage. It persists until the end of the dry season and thus is important as a reliable source of fodder. In northern Nigeria Cenchrus prieurii is planted as a forage.
The fodder value of Cenchrus prieurii plants in the Sahel is: crude protein 9.2%, crude fibre 37.1%, crude fat 1.8%, nitrogen-free extractives 42.8%, P 0.15%, K 3.36%, Ca 0.23%, Mg 0.19% and Na 0.02%. Information on the nutrititional characteristics of the grain is not available.
Loosely tufted, annual grass, with stems (culms) up to 80 cm tall. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; ligule a line of hairs; blade linear, flat, 10–30 cm × 3.5–10 mm, finely acute. Inflorescence a cylindrical spike-like panicle 5–12 cm × 2–4 cm, with 1–2 spikelets enclosed by an involucre of long bristles; rachis angular, scabrid, sinuous; involucre with many slender scabrid bristles 15–27 mm long and furnished with spines directed upwards, far exceeding the spikelet, fused at base. Spikelet lanceolate, 4–5 mm long, acute, consisting of 2 glumes and usually 2 florets; glumes shorter than spikelet; lower floret male or sterile, its lemma as long as spikelet, membranous; upper floret bisexual, its lemma as long as spikelet, thinly leathery. Fruit a dorsally compressed caryopsis (grain).
Cenchrus comprises about 20 species in tropical and warm temperate regions, mainly in Africa and the Americas. It is closely related to Pennisetum, which differs in non-spiny inner involucral bristles free to the base.
Cenchrus prieurii follows the C4-cycle photosynthetic pathway.
Cenchrus prieurii is found in semi-arid and arid regions with an average annual rainfall of 200–500 mm, in open sandy locations up to 1000 m altitude. A study in western Niger showed that Cenchrus prieurii had become much more abundant and dominant in the late 1980s than it was in the early 1960s.
Cenchrus prieurii is collected from the wild. The 1000-seed weight is 0.2 g.
Genetic resources and breeding
A few accessions of Cenchrus prieurii are held in Australia (Australian Tropical Crops & Forages Genetic Resources Centre, Biloela, Queensland, 3 accessions) and the United Kingdom (Welsh Plant Breeding Station, Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Aberystwyth, Wales, 2 accessions). In view of its wide distribution, Cenchrus prieurii is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Cenchrus prieurii has some value as a source of food in times of scarcity and as a fodder grass, but it is unlikely to increase in importance in the future. Investigations are necessary to find out if the nutritional quality of the grain of Cenchrus prieurii is as high as that of the grain of Cenchrus biflorus Roxb.
Major references
• Bogdan, A.V., 1977. Tropical pasture and fodder plants (grasses and legumes). Longman, London, United Kingdom. 475 pp.
• Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
• Hanelt, P. & Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Editors), 2001. Mansfeld’s encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops (except ornamentals). 1st English edition. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 3645 pp.
• Peyre de Fabrègues, B., 1992. Observations on the ebb and flow of native grasses in the area of the Ekrafane Ranch, Sahel. In: Chapman, G.P. (Editor). Desertified grasslands: their biology and management. Papers presented at an international symposium organized by the Linnean Society of London and Wye College, University of London, held at the Linnean Society’s Rooms, London, 27, 28 February and 1 March 1991. Academic Press, London, United Kingdom. pp. 37–46.
• Phillips, S., 1995. Poaceae (Gramineae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 7. Poaceae (Gramineae). The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. 420 pp.
Other references
• Bartha, R., 1970. Fodder plants in the Sahel zone of Africa. Weltforum Verlag, München, Germany. 306 pp.
• Breman, H. & de Ridder, N., 1991. Manuel sur les pâturages des pays sahéliens. ACCT, Paris, France, CTA, Wageningen, Netherlands & Karthala, Paris, France. 485 pp.
• Clayton, W.D., 1972. Gramineae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, part 2. pp. 277–574.
• Freedman, R., undated. Famine foods. Poaceae. [Internet]. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, United States. Accessed July 2005.
M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

M. Brink
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
G. Belay
Ethiopian Agricultural Research Organization, Debre Zeit Center, P.O. Box 32, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia
Associate editors
J.M.J. de Wet
Department of Crop Sciences, Urbana-Champaign, Turner Hall, 1102 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801, United States
O.T. Edje
Faculty of Agriculture, University of Swaziland, P.O. Luyengo, Luyengo, Swaziland
E. Westphal
Ritzema Bosweg 13, 6706 BB Wageningen, Netherlands
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Cenchrus prieurii (Kunth) Maire In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.