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Pennisetum purpureum - Schumach

Common Name Napier grass. Elephant grass
Family Poaceae
USDA hardiness 8-11
Known Hazards None known
Habitats A tropical tall grass found along rivers and forest margins on more fertile soils.
Range A perennial tropical grass native to the African grasslands. Introduced to most tropical and subtropical countries where it has become naturalised.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Half Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Pennisetum purpureum Napier grass. Elephant grass

Forest & Kim Starr starrenvironmental.com
Pennisetum purpureum Napier grass. Elephant grass
Forest & Kim Starr starrenvironmental.com


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A clumping perennial grass to 4 m, native to tropical Africa, this grass is fairly tolerant of different soil conditions and remarkably drought tolerant for a plant of high rainfall areas. As a carbon farming solutions plant it is an excellent biomass Industrial Crop. It is also edible. it makes a good contour hedgerow and is excellent bank and pasture fodder. Napier grasses improve soil fertility, and protect arid land from soil erosion. Used for firebreaks, windbreaks, in paper pulp production and bio-oil, biogas and charcoal. It is a plant very 'hungry' for nutrient but does not like waterlogged conditions. It is very fast to recover from browsing.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Pennisetum purpureum is a PERENNIAL growing to 4 m (13ft) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 9.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Amphochaeta exaltata Andersson [Illegitimate]; Cenchrus purpureus (Schumach.) Morrone; Gymnotrix nitens Andersson; Pennisetum benthamii Steudel; Pennisetum blepharideum Gilli; Pennisetum flavicomum Leeke. Pennisetum giganteum Regel [Illegitimate]; Pennisetum gossweileri Stapf & C.E.Hubb; Pennisetum lachnorrhachis Peter. Pennisetum flexispica K. Schumann; Pennisetum hainanense H. R. Zhao & A. T. Liu; Pennisetum macrostachyum Bentham; Pennisetum nitens (Andersson) Hack; Pennisetum pallescens Leeke; Pennisetum pruinosum Leeke; Pennisetum purpureum subsp. benthamii (Steud.) Maire & Weiller; Pennisetum purpureum subsp. flexispica (K.Schum.) Maire & Weiller;

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers  Leaves  Shoots  Stem
Edible Uses:

Edible Portion: Flowers, Shoots, Vegetable. The young shoots or leaves are added to soup. Very young and tender inflorescences are eaten as a vegetable[317 ]. The young leaves and shoots are added to soups to provide extra protein, carbohydrates, fat and vitamins[332 ]. The soup is mildly laxative[332 ]. The stalks are reduced to ash and then the soluble and insoluble parts are separated out with water to produce vegetable salt. Carbon Farming Solutions - Staple Crop: protein (The term staple crop typically refers to a food that is eaten routinely and accounts for a dominant part of people's diets in a particular region of the world) [1-1]. Pennisetum purpureum has been successfully crossed with Pennisetum glaucum (Pearl millet) to create forage grasses with the possibility of hybrids as a perennial millet staple crop [1-1].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

The plant is used in a number of medical applications in Africa[332 ]. Examination of Nigerian material has shown a trace of alkaloid in the leaf[332 ]. Extracts of all parts of the plant are strongly diuretic[332 ]. An infusion of both foliage and culms is used in treating anuria, whilst a root-decoction is given in the treatment of blennorrhoea[332 ]. A leaf infusion is used as a gargle and mouthwash to treat buccal affections, gingivitis and thrush[332 ]. Sap expressed from young shoots which have been heated over a fire is mixed with a little salt and instilled into the eyes for treating cataracts[332 ]. The sap is also considered healing on wounds, both on its own and also in combination with other herbs[332 ]. The stem-sap is used in treating ear problems[332 ]. The pith taken from the ends of young culms is softened in a fire and used as a dressing for contusions[332 ]. Ash from the roasted culms is mixed into an ointment with palm oil or false shea butter (Lophira lancolata), then used as a base for treating herpes and other skin complaints [332 ]. The ash is added to slices of the large green banana and then put on ulcers on the soles of the feet[332 ]. The seed is reportedly used to cure headaches [332 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses


Carbon Farming Solutions - Industrial Crop: biomass (Crops grown for non-food uses. Industrial crops provide resources in three main categories: materials, chemicals, and energy. Traditional materials include lumber and thatch, paper and cardboard, and textiles) [1-1]. Yields depend on fertility, moisture, temperature and management. DM yields of 10-30 t/ha/yr common, (and up to 85 t/ha/yr) if well fertilised; 2-10 t/ha/yr if unfertilised. More frequent cuts (up to 45 days) give less dry matter, but better leaf production than infrequent cuts [415]. Agroforestry Services: contour hedgerow. Fodder: bank, pasture. Extremely palatable to all classes of stock provided young and leafy. Can cause nitrate poisoning in cattle if a sole component of the diet. Oxalate levels of 2.5-3.1% of DM, but no problems were recorded. [415]. Used as part of a push-pull agricultural pest management strategy - repels pests. Napier grass has shown potential at attracting stemborer moths (a main cause of yield loss in Africa) away from maize. Napier grasses improve soil fertility, and protect arid land from soil erosion. Used for firebreaks, windbreaks, in paper pulp production and bio-oil, biogas and charcoal. It can be used for ground cover, soil conservation and windbreaks[418 ]. It is planted as a boundary marker between garden plots[332 ], even though the roots can compete with the adjacent crop[415 ]. The vigorous compact habit of growth lends the plant to the establishment of stands on river-banks to prevent erosion and scour[332 ]. Intercropping with cassava and banana is often practised in home gardens[310 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Contour hedgerow  Fodder: Bank  Fodder: Pasture  Global Crop  Industrial Crop: Biomass  Management: Hay  Staple Crop: Protein

A plant of the moist tropics, it can also be grown in subtropical and warm temperate regions. It is found at elevations from near sea level to 2,000 metres in the tropics[418 ]. It grows best in areas where the mean annual temperature falls within the range 21 - 40°c, but can tolerate 15 - 45°c[418 ]. Plants can survive occasional light frosts[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,500 - 2,500mm, tolerating 850 - 4,000mm[418 ]. Grows best in a sunny position, but tolerates light shade[418 ]. Succeeds in most soils - although it can persist and compete in dry, sandy soils, it grows best in rich, well-drained conditions[305 , 428 ]. Established plants have a deep root system and are extremely drought tolerant[305 , 310 , 415 ]. It prefers a pH in the range 5 - 6.5, tolerating 4.5 - 8.2[418 ]. The plant has escaped from cultivation and becomes naturalized in many parts of the tropics and subtropics[310 ]. In moist rich places it forms reed jungles, thereby eliminating the use of such land for cultivation[305 ]. It forms dense perennial stands, difficult to penetrate, which inhibits the establishment of other vegetation[305 ]. A fast-growing plant, under favourable conditions it can reach a height of several metres within 60 days[418 ]. Plants recover well after fire, and can become the dominant vegetation in fire-affected savannah communities[415 ]. Seed set is usually poor, possibly due to low pollen viability[415 ]. Moderate shade tolerance. USDA Hardiness Zone 8 - 11. Carbon Farming Solutions - Cultivation: global crop. Management: hay (Describes the non-destructive management systems that are used in cultivation) [1-1].

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Contour hedgerow  Alley cropping systems on the contour of slopes.
  • Fodder: Bank  Fodder banks are plantings of high-quality fodder species. Their goal is to maintain healthy productive animals. They can be utilized all year, but are designed to bridge the forage scarcity of annual dry seasons. Fodder bank plants are usually trees or shrubs, and often legumes. The relatively deep roots of these woody perennials allow them to reach soil nutrients and moisture not available to grasses and herbaceous plants.
  • Fodder: Pasture  Enclosed tracts of farmland mainly of grasses, with an interspersion of legumes and other forbs (non-grass herbaceous plants).
  • Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world. The annual value of each is more than $1 billion US Examples include coconuts, almonds, and bananas.
  • Industrial Crop: Biomass  Three broad categories: bamboos, resprouting woody plants, and giant grasses. uses include: protein, materials (paper, building materials, fibers, biochar etc.), chemicals (biobased chemicals), energy - biofuels
  • Management: Hay  Cut to the ground and harvested annually. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Staple Crop: Protein  (16+ percent protein, 0-15 percent oil). Annuals include beans, chickpeas, lentils, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. Perennials include perennial beans, nuts, leaf protein concentrates, and edible milks.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Plants can be grown from cuttings. It can also be grown by seeds or division of the clump. This is a very easy grass to propagate. Simply place small branches into damp soil either in situ, or in a nursery situation. Roots will strike very quickly.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Elephant grass, Merker grass, Napier grass , (English); Napier, herbe éléphant, Fausse canne át; sucre (French); Elefantengras (German); Capim-elefante (Portuguese); Pasto elefante (Spanish); Gigante (Costa Rica); Mfufu (Africa); Co voi (Vietnam); 'Erepani (Cook Islands ('Atiu)); Acfucsracsracsr (Kosrae); Bokso (Palau); Puk-soh (Pohnpei); Vao povi (Samoa) [415]. Achara, Balanco, Capim elefante, Mane, Xiang cao

Native Range

AFRICA: Ethiopia (south), Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo, Côte D‘Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Napier grass is an opportunistic weed with the ability to persist in disturbed areas, out-competing other native vegetation.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : Status: Least Concern

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Pennisetum alopecuroidesChinese Fountain Grass, Fountain Grass, Swamp Foxtail Grass, Chinese Fountain GrassPerennial1.5 5-9 FLMNDM103
Pennisetum cereale Perennial0.0 -  LMNDM10 
Pennisetum glaucumPearl MilletAnnual3.0 -  LMNDM21 
Pennisetum setaceumFountain grassPerennial1.5 8-11 FLMHSNDM302

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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