Prota 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs
Tent. fl. abyss. 2: 399 (1850).
Famine grass (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Sporobolus panicoides is found in East and southern Africa from Sudan and Ethiopia southwards to South Africa, and in tropical Arabia.
The grains of Sporobolus panicoides are eaten during times of food shortage.
Annual, slender grass up to 1 m tall; stem (culm) erect, solitary or tufted. Leaves simple; leaf sheath papery, glabrous, but hairy near the margins, slightly compressed; blade linear, 5–30 cm × 2–6 mm, attenuate at apex, flat or involute, pale green, glabrous or sparsely hairy above. Inflorescence a narrowly ellipsoid panicle 4–22 cm long, the branches in a succession of whorls, with 1–4 spikelets per branch. Spikelet 2–3.5 mm long, pallid with purple tinge above, 1-flowered; lower glume 1–1.5 mm long, rarely minute, narrowly ovate to lanceolate, obtuse to acute at apex, veinless, glabrous, upper glume as long as the spikelet, elliptical-oblong to ovate, acute at apex, 1-veined, glabrous; lemma a little shorter than spikelet, elliptical-ovate, 1-veined; palea 2-veined; stamens 3, 1–1.5 mm long; ovary superior, with 2 plumose stigmas. Fruit a caryopsis (grain), 1–2 mm in diameter, oblong-globose, bright brown or orange.
Sporobolus comprises about 160 species and occurs in the tropics and subtropics, extending into warm temperate regions. It resembles 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. However, Sporobolus panicoides is easily recognized by its comparatively large, brightly coloured grain, the sparsity of spikelets on the panicle branches and the partially or complete sterile lowermost panicle branch whorl.
Sporobolus panicoides is locally common in sunny or lightly shaded locations, up to 2100 m altitude, in woodland on sandy soils, in granite sandveld and on rocky hillsides, often at roadsides or in other disturbed localities.
The grains of Sporobolus panicoides are only collected from the wild.
Genetic resources and breeding
One accession of Sporobolus panicoides is kept at the National Genebank of Kenya, Crop Plant Genetic Resources Centre, KARI, Kikuyu. Sporobolus panicoides is not threatened by genetic erosion as it is widespread and locally common.
The present role of Sporobolus panicoides is very limited, being a local source of food during times of shortage. It is not probable that it will become more important in the future.
• Clayton, W.D., Phillips, S.M. & Renvoize, S.A., 1974. Gramineae (part 2). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 273 pp.
• Cope, T., 1999. Gramineae (Arundineae, Eragrostideae, Leptureae and Cynodonteae). In: Pope, G.V. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 10, part 2. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 261 pp.
• Cope, T.A., 1995. Poaceae (Gramineae). In: Thulin, M. (Editor). Flora of Somalia. Volume 4. Angiospermae (Hydrocharitaceae-Pandanaceae). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. pp. 148–270.
• Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker, N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J., 1990. Grasses of Southern Africa: an identification manual with keys, descriptions, distributions, classification and automated identification and information retrieval from computerized data. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No 58. National Botanic Gardens / Botanical Research Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. 437 pp.
• 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.
• Fröman, B. & Persson, S., 1974. An illustrated guide to the grasses of Ethiopia. CADU (Chilalo Agricultural Development Unit), Asella, Ethiopia. 504 pp.
• IPGRI, undated. Directory of Germplasm Collections. [Internet] http://www.ipgri.cgiar.org. Accessed April 2005.
• Klaassen, E.S. & Craven, P., 2003. Checklist of grasses in Namibia. Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No 20. SABONET, Pretoria, South Africa. 130 pp.
• Mackie, C., 1976. Feeding habits of the hippopotamus on the Lundi river, Rhodesia. Arnoldia (Rhodesia) 7(34): 1–16.
• Shava, S. & Mapaura, A., 2002. Traditional uses of indigenous grasses of Zimbabwe. Sabonet News 7(3): 193–197.
Correct citation of this article:
Brink, M., 2006. Sporobolus panicoides A.Rich. In: Brink, M. & Belay, G. (Editors). PROTA 1: Cereals and pulses/Céréales et légumes secs. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.