Aristida stipoides (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Aristida stipoides Lam.

Protologue: Tabl. Encycl. 1(1): 157 (1791).
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)

Origin and geographic distribution

Aristida stipoides is distributed across the Sahel from Cape Verde and Mauritania to Sudan and Ethiopia, and occurs scattered from Tanzania south-westward to Namibia.


The stems are used for thatching and for making fences. They are also plaited to make mats and plates. The inner nodes are succulent and sweet, and are sucked by children, for instance in Cape Verde. Domestic animals will graze Aristida stipoides, but only when it is very young and for want of better browse. The plant is frequently galled, producing hard lumps of about 1.5 cm × 1 cm in the basal joint of a branch. Niominka doctors in Senegal consider these galls to be an excellent vermifuge, and Fulani doctors prescribe the galls powdered and mixed into food or taken by draught in water for anuria.

Production and international trade

The stems are only used and traded locally.


Annual, robust, laxly tufted, grass, up to 1.5 m tall; stems erect, simple or slightly branched from the upper nodes, glabrous, usually 3-noded; nodes glabrous. Leaves alternate; sheath slightly scaberulous or glabrous; ligule a short-ciliate rim; auricles with a tuft of woolly hairs; blade up to 30 cm × 3–5 mm, margins rolled inward when expanded or more or less flat at the base, prominently veined and scabrous above, smooth beneath. Inflorescence an up to 50 cm long panicle, spreading and very lax, often nodding, often few-flowered; branches glabrous or scaberulous, branchlets filiform; axis smooth. Spikelets solitary, 1-flowered, narrow, pedicelled, pallid or tinged with red or purple, especially at the base, sometimes with a black spot; rachilla disarticulating obliquely above the glumes; callus slender, c. 2 mm long, 2-toothed, bearded; glumes persistent, very unequal, 1-veined, glabrous, lower glume 5–7 mm long, broadly lanceolate, slightly 2-fid, minutely dented to hairy along the margins towards the apex, upper glume 15–20 mm long, narrowly linear with a mucro from a 2-fid apex; floret bisexual; lemma elliptical, 7–9 mm long, leathery, 3-veined, with 3 awns, the central one 3.5–6 cm long, the lateral ones a little shorter; palea one-tenth of the length of the lemma, without keels; stamens 3. Fruit a caryopsis.

Aristida is a large genus comprising nearly 300 species occurring worldwide, often in arid, warm regions. It is characterized by the 3-awned lemmas of the florets.

Aristida junciformis Trin. & Rupr. (‘wire grass’, ‘Ngongoni three-awn grass’) is a perennial, rhizomatous and tufted grass up to 90 cm tall and unbranched stems. It occurs from East to South Africa in savanna and grassland. Some of the grasslands of the eastern seaboard of South Africa are named after this grass (‘Ngongoni Veld’). It is a very good grass for making brooms for domestic use. It has no value for grazing, as it is hard and unpalatable. Where selective overgrazing takes place, this grass forms dense stands which are very difficult to eradicate and it is considered a weed in these circumstances. It does create excellent ground cover which prevents soil erosion in the high altitude and high rainfall areas in which it occurs.

Aristida stipitata Hack. (‘sandveld bristlegrass’, ‘dune bristlegrass’) is a perennial, tufted grass with erect stems up to 150 cm long, occurring in tropical southern Africa. In the Okavanga delta in Botswana the stems are used for thatching. Sometimes stems are twisted into a tight bundle, immersed in water and lifted above the head so that the outflowing water can be drunk.


Aristida stipoides occurs on sandy and basaltic soils in grassland and scrub, also in peaty dambos. It is sensitive to heavy grazing. It is often indicative of impoverished soils.


Aristida stipoides only occurs wild.

Genetic resources

Aristida stipoides is widespread and common and is not in danger of genetic erosion.


Aristida stipoides is likely to remain a grass of local importance for thatching and plaiting.

Major references

  • Burkill, H.M., 1994. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 2, Families E–I. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 636 pp.
  • Clayton, W.D., 1970. Gramineae (part 1). In: Milne-Redhead, E. & Polhill, R.M. (Editors). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 176 pp.
  • Clayton, W.D., 1972. Gramineae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, part 2. pp. 277–574.
  • Hiernaux, P., 1998. Effects of grazing on plant species composition and spatial distribution in rangelands of the Sahel. Plant Ecology 138(2): 191–202.
  • Launert, E., 1971. Gramineae (Bambuseae - Pappophoreae). In: Fernandes, A., Launert, E. & Wild, H. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 10, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. 152 pp.

Other references

  • CIAT/FAO, undated. Grassland species profiles. [Internet]. CIAT/FAO collaboration on Tropical Forages, Rome, Italy. ag/AGP/AGPC/doc/gbase/ Default.htm. May 2011.
  • Clayton, W.D., Harman, K.T. & Williamson, H., 2002–. GrassBase - the online world grass flora. [Internet] Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. data/grasses-db/. May 2011.
  • de Winter, B., 1969. A new species of Eragrostis from South West Africa. Bothalia 10(1): 72.
  • 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.
  • Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G., 1964. Les plantes médicinales, toxiques et magiques des Niominka et des Socé des Iles du Saloum (Sénégal). In: Haerdi, F., Kerharo, J. & Adam, J.G. (Editors). Afrikanische Heilpflanzen / Plantes médicinales africaines. Acta Tropica Supplementum 8: 279–334.
  • Kgathi, D.L., Mmopelwa, G. & Mosepele, K., 2005. Natural resources assessment in the Okavango Delta, Botswana: case studies of some key resources. Natural Resources Forum 29: 70–81.
  • Klaassen, E.S. & Craven, P., 2003. Checklist of grasses in Namibia. [Internet] Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No 20. SABONET, Pretoria, South Africa & Windhoek, Namibia. 130 pp. fileadmin/user_upload/documents/ Grass_Check_List.pdf. May 2011.
  • Poilecot, P., 1999. Les Poaceae du Niger, description, illustration, ecologie, utilisations. Boissiera 58: 1–766.
  • van Oudtshoorn, F., 1999. Guide to grasses of Southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 288 pp.


  • L.P.A. Oyen, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Oyen, L.P.A., 2011. Aristida stipoides Lam. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <>.

Accessed 18 November 2020.