Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Fl. Afr. austral. ill.: 156 (1841).
2n = 18, 36, 54
Dropseed, perennial dropseed grass, fringed dropseed (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Sporobolus fimbriatus is found wild and occasionally cultivated from Sudan and Somalia southwards to South Africa. It has been introduced elsewhere, e.g. into the United States.
In southern Africa the grains of Sporobolus fimbriatus are eaten during times of food shortage; they may be ground to prepare a porridge. Sporobolus fimbriatus is a good pasture grass and is browsed by stock, e.g. sheep and cattle. It has been planted for soil stabilization.
In South Africa the crude protein content of Sporobolus fimbriatus ranges from 14% in spring to 10% in autumn, and the digestibility from 70% in spring to 63% in autumn. The plant may contain hydrocyanic acid, but poisoning is seldom a problem.
Perennial, tufted grass up to 1.7 m tall, with a short rhizome; stem (culm) 2–3 mm in diameter at the base, erect, usually unbranched. Leaves mostly basal, simple; basal leaf sheath papery, glabrous or hairy along the margins, terete to strongly compressed and keeled, persistent; ligule ciliate; leaf blade linear, 10–30(–60) cm × 2–7.5(–14) mm, tapering to a filiform apex, flat, folded or involute, the white midrib prominent above, rough on the surfaces. Inflorescence a panicle 15–65 cm long, linear to lanceolate, the branches not in whorls, 2–12 cm long, smooth or somewhat rough, with the spikelets on the secondary or short tertiary branchlets. Spikelet 1.5–2.5 mm long, dark green, 1-flowered; lower glume narrowly oblong to lanceolate, 0.5–1.5 mm long, veinless, upper glume narrowly ovate, 1.5–2 mm long, 1-veined; lemma narrowly ovate, as long as the spikelet or almost so, 1-veined; palea similar to lemma, but 2-veined; stamens 3, c. 1 mm long; ovary superior, with 2 plumose stigmas. Fruit a caryopsis (grain), obovoid, c. 0.5 mm long, truncate, tetragonal in section.
Sporobolus comprises about 160 species and occurs in the tropics and subtropics, extending into warm temperate regions. It may resemble Eragrostis, which differs in its 2–many-flowered spikelets (1-flowered in Sporobolus) and 3-veined lemma (1-veined in Sporobolus). The species of Sporobolus are often difficult to identify because they intergrade to such an extent that their limits are often not sharply defined. This is also the case for the variable Sporobolus fimbriatus. Sporobolus fimbriatus follows the C4-cycle photosynthetic pathway.
Sporobolus fimbriatus is commonly found up to 2000 m altitude in open woodland and grassland, often in shallow rainwater pans, sometimes on rocky hillsides, also in disturbed or shady locations.
The grain of Sporobolus fimbriatus is mostly collected from the wild. In experiments in South Africa ungrazed planted pasture of Sporobolus fimbriatus produced 3.3 t dry matter per ha per year, and grazed pasture 2.7 t dry matter per ha per year.
Genetic resources and breeding
A collection of 47 accessions of Sporobolus fimbriatus (46 from South Africa and 1 from Botswana) is held in the United States (USDA-ARS Western Regional Plant Introduction Station, Pullman, Washington). In Africa germplasm collections are held in Kenya (National Genebank of Kenya, Crop Plant Genetic Resources Centre, KARI, Kikuyu, 21 accessions), South Africa (Grassland Research Centre, Department of Agricultural Development, Pretoria, 4 accessions) and Ethiopia (International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Addis Ababa, 1 accession). In view of its wide distribution and common occurrence Sporobolus fimbriatus is not threatened by genetic erosion.
The present role of Sporobolus fimbriatus seems limited to being a local source of food during times of shortage and of fodder. It is unlikely to increase in importance in the future.
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Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Sporobolus fimbriatus (Trin.) Nees In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.