Ctenium elegans (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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Ctenium elegans Kunth

Protologue: Révis. Gramin. 1: 295 (1830).
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)


  • Chloris elegans (Kunth) Roberty (1955).

Origin and geographic distribution

Ctenium elegans is distributed from Mauritania and Senegal eastward to Sudan. It possibly also occurs in Gabon.


The stems are used as thatching material for huts. In Ghana the grass is woven into baskets plastered outside with cow dung to make beehives. Salka people in north-western Nigeria make it into conical covers for beehives. In Niger the stems are used for making mats and brooms. Ctenium elegans has been tested for producing paper pulp with positive results.

Records of stock grazing Ctenium elegans are ambiguous; in some places it is taken when young, elsewhere not. The foliage is aromatic and smells like citronella or lemon, which may account for cattle sometimes shunning it. Still, it is used for stall feeding in commercial dairy production.

Production and international trade

Ctenium elegans is only used and traded locally.


Annual, densely tufted grass; stems erect, up to 120 cm long, wiry, cylindrical, unbranched, glabrous, often broken. Leaves alternate, aromatic; sheath slightly hairy near the tip, otherwise glabrous; ligule very short, membranous; blade linear to ribbon-shaped, up to 30 cm × 3 mm, margin rough, lower part flat, upper part rolled-in, glabrous or with a few hairs axially near the base. Inflorescence a solitary, terminal spike up to 30 cm long, unilateral, tending to curl; rachis short-hairy. Spikelets laterally compressed, 3–6 mm long, sessile, solitary, comprising 2 basal sterile florets and 1 fertile floret; callus pubescent; glumes very unequal, margins hyaline, lower glume very small, awl-shaped, persistent, upper glume larger than the floret, 4–6 mm long, rigid, 2-veined, with an awn up to 2 mm long; basal sterile florets dissimilar, without significant palea, lemma of lower sterile floret oblong, hyaline, with awn 6–10 mm long, lemma of upper sterile floret oblong, slightly longer than that of lower sterile floret, hyaline, with awn 6–10 mm long; lemma of fertile floret ovate, 2–3 mm long, membranous, keeled, 3-veined, with 2–8 conspicuous apical hairs 2 mm long, with awn 6–10 mm long, palea of fertile floret 2-veined; lemmas of the lower florets and palea of the fertile floret with a line of yellow glands. Fruit an oblong-ellipsoid caryopsis 1–1.5 mm long.

Ctenium elegans flowers late in the rainy season. It is a C4 plant. It should be noted that Chloris elegans Kunth is a synonym of Chloris virgata Sw. and not of Ctenium elegans.

Ctenium comprises about 8 species in Africa and 14 in the tropical Americas. It is characterized by the distribution of florets along the spikelets, with from the base 2 sterile florets, 1 perfect floret, and 1–4 male or barren florets. Ctenium canescens Benth. is a perennial, tufted grass with stems up to 120 cm long, occurring from Côte d’Ivoire to Nigeria in savanna on degraded sandy soils. The stems are used for thatching. Ctenium newtonii Hack. is a perennial, tufted, wiry grass with stems up to 1 m long, occurring from Senegal to Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Angola. In northern Nigeria it is used for thatching. The leaves are aromatic, and it is not much grazed. Where over-grazing eliminated other, more palatable grasses, it has colonised large areas as locally in Sudan. In northern Nigeria its presence is taken as an indicator of overgrazing.


Ctenium elegans typically occurs in the Sahel zone, in open forest, savanna and grassland, often on poor, sandy and sometimes gravelly or lateritic soils, in dry or temporarily wet places.


Plants are sometimes conserved in cultivated fields. Propagation by seed is possible. Under favourable conditions, germination occurs after about 4 days.

Genetic resources

Ctenium elegans is widespread and common. It is not in danger of genetic erosion.


Ctenium elegans will remain a grass of occasional use for thatching and basketry. Its potential as a fodder species is very limited.

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., 1963. Studies in the Gramineae: IV. The African species of Ctenium. Kew Bulletin 16: 471–475.
  • Poilecot, P., 1995. Les Poaceae de Côte d’Ivoire. Manuel illustré d’identification des espèces. Boissera 50: 1–734.
  • Poilecot, P., 1999. Les Poaceae du Niger. Boissiera 56: 1–766.
  • van der Zon, A.P.M., 1992. Graminées du Cameroun. Volume 2, Flore. Wageningen Agricultural University Papers 92–1. Wageningen Agricultural University, Wageningen, Netherlands. 557 pp.

Other references

  • Anonymous, 1921. Nigerian grasses for paper making. Bulletin of the Imperial Institute, London 19: 271–282.
  • Ayantunde, A.A., Hiernaux, P., Briejer, M., Udo, H. & Tabo, R., 2009. Uses of local plant species by agropastoralists in south-western Niger. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 7: 53–66.
  • Breman, H. & de Ridder, N., 1991. Manuel sur les pâturages des pays sahéliens. ACCT, Paris, France, CTA, Wageningen, Netherlands & Karthala, Paris, France. 485 pp.
  • Diogo, R.V.C., Buerkert, A. & Schlecht, E., 2010. Resource use efficiency in urban and peri-urban sheep, goat and cattle enterprises. Animal 4(10): 1725–1738.
  • JIRCAS, 2005–2009. Fakara plants - A database of the plants of the Sahel -. [Internet] http://www.jircas.affrc.go.jp/ project/africa_dojo/FakaraPlants/ Fakara_Plants_home.html. May 2011.
  • Le Houérou, H.N., 1980. The role of browse in the Sahelian and Sudanian zones. [Internet] In: Le Houérou, H.N. (Editor). Browse in Africa: The current state of knowledge. Papers presented at the International Symposium on Browse in Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, April 8–12, 1980. International Livestock Center for Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 491 pp. http://www.ilri.org/ InfoServ/Webpub/fulldocs/ BROWSE_IN_AFRICA/toc.htm#TopOfPage. May 2011.


  • 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. Ctenium elegans Kunth. [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. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 13 November 2020.