Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Bull. Mus. natn. Hist. nat., Paris, sér. 2, 3: 523 (1931).
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.
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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.