Urochloa mosambicensis (Hack.) Dandy
Common names: bushveld signal grass, white buffalo grass, herringbone grass (Eng.); bosveldbeesgras, witbuffelsgras (Afr.)
Urochloa mosambicensis is a perennial grass with an inflorescence made up of a number of spike-like racemes arranged alternately on a central axis. It grows easily from seed and is cultivated on a small scale as pasture.
A tufted perennial 200-1500 mm high, stoloniferous, sometimes rooting and branching from lower nodes; basal sheaths glabrous to densely hairy, usually not splitting into fibres. Leaf blade 20-300 x 3-20 mm. Racemes (2-)3-15, 20-80 mm long (Gibbs Russell et al. 1990). Spikelet 3-5 mm long, ovate; lower glume (the bracts at the base of the spikelet) 2 / 3 - 5 / 6 as long as spikelet, 3-nerved, with 1-3 stiff hairs on the back, apex broadly rounded; upper glume 5-nerved, usually without cross-veins, glabrous or pubescent; lower lemma (encloses grass flower) with or without a fringe of stiff hairs near the margins; upper lemma with well developed awn 0.5-1.2 mm long; anther 1.0-2.0 mm long.
Flowering October to May.
Two closely related species are: U. stolonifera, a smaller plant with spikelets untidily arranged and upper lemma very shortly awned; U. trichopus, an annual with slightly shorter, thicker and hairier racemes, a denser tufted grass than U. mosambicensis with longer leaves and 5-nerved lower glume.
The SANBI Threatened Plants Programme has indicated its conservation status as Least Concern (LC).
Distribution and habitat
Urochloa mosambicensis occurs from KwaZulu-Natal northwards to east Africa. It is planted in Australia as a cultivated pasture. Bushveld signal grass is a ruderal, common on disturbed areas such as roadsides, fallow lands and trampled ground, especially where the soil is fertile. In central Africa it is usually an open savanna or woodland species, whereas in South Africa it favours grassland.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Urochloa is derived from the Greek word oura meaning tail and chloa meaning grass, possibly alluding to the mucronate lemma of the upper floret; mosambicensis derives from the location, Moçambique. The genus Urochloa comprises ± 12 species; 6 species occur in southern Africa and are widespread.
Urochloa mosambicensi grows on a variety of soil types, mostly fertile sand-loam and usually in sheltered disturbed places. It often grows in light shade. Pollination is by wind, seed dispersal by wind and water.
It is a palatable grass with an average leaf production. It is an introduced forage crop in tropical countries and a good indicator of disturbed places. It could be important in veld re-establishment, especially in drier areas. The stolons and broad leaves protect the soil effectively against rain, wind and sun. Cattle are particularly fond of this grass. The seed is boiled and eaten in time of famine.
Growing Urochloa mosambicensis
Bush signal grass is sometimes cultivated on a small scale as pasture. It is considered to be fast growing, and multiplies easily from seed. It grows mostly in fertile soil. As a perennial grass it starts sprouting quickly after fire.
- Chippindall, L.K.A. & Crook, A.O. 1976. Grasses of southern Africa. Collins, Harare [Salisbury].
- Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker, N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J. 1990. Grasses of southern Africa. Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 58.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seed plants of southern Africa : families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Van Oudtshoorn, F. 1999. Guide to the grasses of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria.
Aluoneswi Caroline Mashau
National Herbarium ( Pretoria )
Plant Type: Grass, Perennial
SA Distribution: Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer
Flower colour: Green, Purple
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy