Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Fl. aegypt.-arab.: 18 (1775).
2n = 18, 36, 54
Desert grass, turgid panic grass (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Panicum turgidum is distributed from Mauritania and Senegal eastwards through the Sahara and Sahel to Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, and through northern Africa and western Asia to Pakistan and India.
Panicum turgidum is one of the ‘kreb’ grasses, a group of grasses occurring in the Sahel region and collected from the wild for human consumption on a regular basis and especially in times of food shortage. Formerly the grains of Panicum turgidum were gathered in large amounts, but nowadays they are rarely harvested. The grains are mainly made into porridge. They may also be pounded and eaten without further preparation (‘tebik’).
In Djibouti the young shoots are eaten; they are said to be sweet. When green, Panicum turgidum is eaten by all livestock; when dry, only by camels and donkeys. The stems are used for thatching and for making mats, baskets and cordage. The Tamachek people in Niger weave the straw as the weft, with thin threads of leather as the warp, into mats which can only be rolled one way. Mats of Panicum turgidum have been used as funeral shrouds. In the Sahara the stems are used as fuel. Plant ash is mixed with tobacco for chewing and in southern Algeria the powder of ground stems is used as a wound-dressing. In Mauritania the grains are credited with antidiabetic properties. Panicum turgidum has occasionally been used for dune fixation in arid areas.
The palatibility of the leaves of Panicum turgidum is low, but sufficient for camels and donkeys, and, when young, for sheep and goats. Herdsmen in Niger say that milk becomes foul-smelling 2–3 days after cows have grazed Panicum turgidum. The grains thresh free from the glumes but remain covered by the tough lemma and palea.
Much-branched, glaucous, perennial grass, forming rounded tussocks up to 1.5(–2) m tall and wide, with a thick rootstock and a fibrous root system up to 2 m deep and laterally spreading for up to 3.5 m; stem (culm) erect or ascending, woody, rooting at the nodes. Leaves alternate, simple and entire; blade linear-lanceolate, up to 20(–30) cm × 7 mm, often much shorter than the sheath, flat, folded or inrolled, stiff and pungent. Inflorescence a moderately branched, pyramidal panicle 2.5–15(–30) cm × 5–9 cm, lax, primary branches distant, eventually spreading. Spikelet ovoid, 3.5–4.5(–5) mm long, acute or acuminate, swollen, glabrous, often gaping at anthesis, 2-flowered; glumes broadly ovate, acute to acuminate, lower glume slightly shorter than the spikelet, 5–9-veined, upper glume 7–9-veined; lower floret male, lemma 9– 11-veined, palea well-developed, upper floret bisexual, lemma pale or yellowish, smooth, glossy; stamens 3; ovary superior, stigmas 2. Fruit a caryopsis (grain) c. 2 mm long, reddish.
Panicum comprises about 470 species and is mainly distributed in tropical and subtropical regions, with some species extending to temperate regions.
Natural reproduction of Panicum turgidum is mainly vegetatively by stolons. In dry areas the dormant buds sprout rapidly after the onset of the rainy season and the plants stay green over a very extended period, with flowering occurring towards the end of the rainy season and during the early part of the dry season. The seeds of Panicum turgidum mature at different times over an extended period, shatter easily and are often eaten by birds. Panicum turgidum follows the C4-cycle photosynthetic pathway.
Panicum turgidum is extremely drought tolerant, growing in regions with an annual rainfall of 200–250 mm or sometimes even less. It occurs up to 3200 m altitude, in sandy deserts and semi-deserts, on dunes and seashores, and in sandy pockets in rocky outcrops. Panicum turgidum is an important plant of the Sahara and Arabian deserts, catching sand and forming hummocks, sometimes in nearly pure stands. In Sudan it is dominant on grounds where locusts lay their eggs, and it serves as food for young locusts. Panicum turgidum tolerates saline soils.
Panicum turgidum is not cultivated as a cereal, but collected from the wild. It is sometimes protected from grazing until after seed harvesting, e.g. in southern Algeria and northern Mali. The panicles may be beaten with a stick to obtain the grains. In Niger the panicles are rubbed between the hands. Panicum turgidum can be propagated by seed or by rootstock cuttings. Seeds do not germinate below 15°C and must be sown superficially. Germination is best at 25–35°C. Transplanting of seedlings is possible.
Genetic resources and breeding
A collection of 42 accessions of Panicum turgidum is held at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. High grain-yielding types are particularly found in the Middle East. Because of its wide distribution and abundance Panicum turgidum is not threatened by genetic erosion.
Panicum turgidum has value as a very drought-resistant grass suitable for sand-binding and for providing food and fodder. It is recommended to sample the existing variation and to use the collected germplasm in a breeding programme aimed at developing superior cultivars. More information is needed on the nutritional characteristics of the grain.
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Panicum turgidum Forssk. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.