Setaria verticillata (L.) P.Beauv.
Common names: bristly foxtail grass, bur bristlegrass, cat’s tails, klits setaria, love grass (Eng.); kat(te)stert(gras), klawergras, kleefgras, klitsgras, steekgras (Afr.); isinama (isiNdebele); isinama (isiZulu) ; isitshube, bohome-ba-lipoli, moghouma, moxoma (Sesotho)
Setaria verticillata is a species of grass known by the common name, bur bristlegrass. It is easily distinguished from other Setaria species by retrorsely barbed bristles. This is a common weed and is not grown as an ornamental.
Setaria verticillata is a loosely tufted annual, growing from 300–1 000 mm high, often sprawling; culm node glabrous. The leaf blade is broadly linear, 50–300 × 6–22 mm, usually loosely hairy and rarely glabrous; sheath margin hairy or glabrous.
Inflorescence is spike-like, 20–150 mm long, often shortly branched and interrupted in lower part; bristles 1–4, 4–16 mm long, rigid, retrorsely barbed, therefore, inflorescences often entangled, green, tinged purple.
Spikelet 1.5–2.5 mm long; lower glume 1-nerved; lower floret sterile, palea reduced; upper lemma finely rugose; anther 0.5–1.0 mm long.
It flowers in summer and autumn, from December to May.
According to the Red List of South African plants, Setaria verticillata is not threatened, and is listed as Least Concern (LC), accessed 18/04/2018.
Distribution and habitat
Setaria verticillata is mainly found in Old World tropics, introduced to the USA and Australia. It is very widespread in South Africa, occurring in the North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape. It also occurs in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho.
This grass species is ruderal in disturbed areas, such as cultivated fields, cattle kraals and along paths; often in damp soil, shady places. It is a common and persistent weed in gardens and in cultivated lands that can spread uncontrollably.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Setaria is derived from the Latin word seta, for a ‘bristle’, which refers to the spikelets that are subtended by 1 or more persistent bristles; verticillata is the Latin word for a ‘whorl’, which refers to the lower branches of the inflorescence that are arranged roughly in whorls.
The genus Setaria has ± 110 species in tropical and subtropical regions; 18 species are found in southern Africa and they are widespread.
Setaria verticillata is a self-pollinated, annual grass, which is long-lived (from germination to the production of seeds, within one year). Seeds of S. verticillata are well adapted to dispersal by animals because of the retrorse barbs on the bristles of the inflorescences. The fruiting panicle of S. verticillata attaches itself to the fur of passing animals by means of the retrorsely-barbed bristles and thereby achieves wide distribution of the seeds.
Bur bristlegrass is palatable, and is therefore, used as pasture, hay and forage. In East Africa the inflorescences are used to keep rats from harvested grains. It is also used for weaving hats and toys. This grass species can be a problem as inflorescences adhere to animals such as sheep, causing much suffering and wool damage.
Setaria verticillata is a persistent weed that can spread uncontrollably and regarded as a noxious weed in parts of Australia.
Growing Setaria verticillata
Seeds of Setaria verticillata grows easily in a disturbed areas and is a problematic crop weed. Freshly harvested seeds of S. verticillata are dormant. The seeds are dormant when shed but lose this dormancy over a period of about 7 months. The minimum constant temperature for germinating seeds is less than 25ºC and the maximum is higher than 40ºC. In temperate areas, germination occurs early in the summer as temperatures become suitable. It grows best in fertile soil. Germination of this grass occurs late in the spring, and also enabling the seedlings to emerge after the ground has been prepared for crop planting.
- Fish, L., Mashau, A.C., Moeaha, M.J. & Nembudani, M.T. 2015. Identification guide to southern African grasses. Strelitzia 36: 271–276. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Fish, L. & Victor, J.E. 2005. Setaria verticillata (L.) P.Beauv. National Assessment: Red List of South African plants version 2017.1. Accessed on 2018/04/18.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
Aluoneswi Caroline Mashau
National Herbarium, Pretoria
Plant Type: Grass
SA Distribution: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Western Cape
Soil type: Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer, Autumn
Flower colour: Green
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average