Pennisetum is a genus of grasses in the family Poaceae, comprising about 80 species. It is native to tropical and warm temperate regions of the world. Pennisetums are annual or perennial grasses growing to 1-4 m tall, and are collectively known as the Pennisetums. It is also commonly known as Millet.
Pennisetums can be grown as ornamental purposes ( such as Fountain Grass, P. setaceum); as food (Pearl Millet, P. glaucum); or as pasture (Kikuyu Grass, P. clandestinum).
Pennisetum setaceum (Fountain Grass) is a half hardy perennial, which is often grown as annual. It has upright, mid-green leaves, and purplish-pink flowerheads on upright stems. It is native to open, scrubby habitats in East Africa, tropical Africa, Middle East, and SW Asia. It is planted in many parts of the world as an ornamental plant. It is drought-tolerant, fast growing and reaches 1 meter in height.
Pearl millet (P.glaucum) is the most widely grown type of millet. It is originated in tropical Africa and later introduced to India. Pearl Millet adapts well to drought, low soil fertility, and high temperature. It performs well in soil with high salinity or low PH. It can be planted in areas where other cereal crops, such as maize or wheat, would not survive. In India and many African countries, Pearl Millet is consumed in the form of leavened and unleavened bread, porridges, boiled or steamed food and alcoholic beverages. While in Sahel (the ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition between the Sahara desert in the North and the Sudanian savannas in the south and elsewhere) and elsewhere in West Africa, Pearl Millet is an important ingredient of couscous; and the stalks are valued building material, fuel and livestock feed. Pearl Millet is grown in USA, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Europe, as a cover crop, or for forage or grain.
Kikuyu Grass (P. clandestinum) is native to the region of East Africa, in low-elevation tropics of Kenya. It is categorised as a noxious weed in some region due to its rapid growth and aggressive nature. However, it is also a popular garden lawn species in Australia and South Africa because it is cheap and drought-tolerant. It is also a useful pasture for livestock grazing. It is a rhizomatous plant, has matted roots and a grass-like or herbaceous habit. The species favors moist areas and grows best in humid heat. Its rooted nodes send up bunches of grass blades. It has high invasive potential due to its elongated rhizomes and stolons, with which it pentrates the grounds, rapidly forming dense mats, and suppressing other plant species. It can climb over other plant life, shading it out and prodcing herbicidial toxins that kill competing plants. It prevents new sprouts of other species from growing, may kill small trees and can even choke ponds and waterway. It is also resistant to mowing and grazing due to its strong network of roots, which can easily send up new shoots.
Napier Grass or Ugandan Grass ( P. purpureum) is native to tropical grasslands in Africa. It is a tall perennial plant, growing to 2-4.5 m tall, with leaves 30-120 cm long and 1-5 cm broad. It has a very high productivity, both as a forage grass for livestock and also as a biofuel crop. It is also commonly known as Elephant Grass for it is a favorite food for elephants. Napier Grass has been proposed as a countermeasure to the corn borer (Ostrinia) in North America, since it attracts and traps the pests (push-pull technology) from maize and sorghum fields .
Several Pennisetums, including Fountain Grass, Kikuyu Grass and Feathertop Grass (P.villosum) have become invasive weeds in countries like Australia and on the Galapagos and Hawaiian Islands. They can be smothered with cover crop, but they also provide food for herbivors; Chestnut-breasted Munias (Lonchura castaneothorax) like to feed on Pearl Millet seeds, while Dark Evening Brown (Melanitis leda) caterpillars and Delia larvae feed on Pennisetum plants.
Plant Pennisetum in full sun, in fertile and well-drained soil. Propagation is by seed or division in spring. The sac fungus Cochliobolus sativus is a plant pathogen which can infect Pennisetum and causing root rot and spot blotch diseases.