Hyparrhenia filipendula (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
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Hyparrhenia filipendula (Hochst.) Stapf

Protologue: Prain, Fl. Trop. Afr. 9(2): 322 (1919).
Family: Poaceae (Gramineae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 40

Vernacular names

  • Fine thatching grass, fine tambookie grass, fine hood grass (En).

Origin and geographic distribution

Hyparrhenia filipendula is widely distributed in East and southern Africa, from Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya south- and westward to Angola and South Africa. Its area of natural distribution extends eastwards through Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Myanmar to Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Australia. There are also scattered collections from West Africa.


The stems of Hyparrhenia filipendula are used for thatching and for making mats and screens for ceilings, outdoor bathrooms and fences for homesteads and homegardens. They are suitable for making paper pulp. When young, the grass provides fair to good grazing and hay; at later stages it becomes too coarse to be suitable as forage, although it is still considered palatable during the dry season in Sudan. In Rwanda it is considered to be the most important highland grass species. In traditional medicine in Zimbabwe a decoction of the root is taken against syphilis. Hyparrhenia filipendula is occasionally planted as a garden ornamental.

Production and international trade

Hyparrhenia filipendula is only locally used as thatch or fodder.


According to the South African Standard for fine thatching grass the cut length of Hyparrhenia filipendula stems should not be less than 0.8 m, stems should have a minimum and maximum diameter at the butt end of 1.2 mm and 2.5 mm, respectively, be acceptably straight (cut above the first node), be free of loose material, be workable, not be cut in the growing season, be fully grown and matured, and be free of seed when cut.

The forage value of Hyparrhenia filipendula at the early bloom stage in Kenya was (on dry matter basis): crude protein 6.6%, crude fibre 36.3%, ash 5.7%, ether extract 1.8%, and nitrogen-free extract 49.5%. Analyses on material from Malawi showed that the nutritional value of the grass decreased with the progress of the growing season: acid detergent fibre increased from 29.6% to 39.0% and finally 46.6%, neutral detergent fibre decreased from 65.6% to 55.6% and finally 47.4%, while ash remained fairly constant at 1.60%, 1.44% and 1.54%.

Adulterations and substitutes

Several other Hyparrhenia species provide very similar thatching material, while many other grasses and palms leaves are used for the same purpose.


Perennial, tufted grass arising from a short scaly rhizome; stems up to 200 cm long, branched from the lower nodes. Leaves alternate; sheath glabrous or rarely with a few stiff white hairs on lower sheaths; ligule up to 1 mm long, membranous; blade linear, up to 65 cm × 8 mm. Inflorescence a false panicle 20–80 cm long, composed of paired racemes, each pair on a peduncle and subtended by a sheathing spatheole; spatheoles linear to almost filiform, 4.5–6.5 cm long; peduncles about as long as the spatheoles, very fine and flexuous, with or without spreading white hairs above; racemes 10–12 mm long, 2–4-awned per pair, delicate, yellowish-green often tinged with violet, terminally exserted, not deflexed; raceme-bases very unequal, the superior raceme (4–)4.5–8(–10) mm long, slender, glabrous, both racemes of a pair bearing basally pairs of homogamous spikelets and towards the apex pairs of heterogamous spikelets. Basal spikelets male or sterile, linear-lanceolate, 5–7 mm long, awnless, glabrous, a single pair at the base of the inferior raceme and 2 pairs at the base of the superior raceme. Upper spikelets in pairs, sessile spikelet fertile, pedicelled spikelet sterile or male; sessile spikelet 4–7 mm long, callus 2–3 mm long, pungent, lower glume linear-oblong, flat on the back or with the inner veins somewhat raised towards the apex, glabrous to villous with white hairs, upper glume awnless, lower floret reduced to hyaline lemma, upper lemma bidentate and with an awn 3–5.5 cm long; pedicelled spikelet linear-lanceolate, 5–6.5 mm long, terminating in an awn 1–5 mm long, callus absent. Fruit an oblong, subterete caryopsis.

Other botanical information

Hyparrhenia comprises about 55 species classified into 6 sections; it is mainly African but a few species extend into other tropical or warm temperate regions. Hyparrhenia specimens are very difficult to identify to species level, As a result of hybridization, apomixis and polyploidy, it consists of a mosaic of intergrading species. Hyparrhenia filipendula is classified in section Polydistachyophorum series Filipendula. It is most easily recognized by its delicate and graceful appearance and the many-branched inflorescence with slender ascending branches, thin and flexuous peduncles, and numerous small racemes with a long upper raceme-base and only 2 awns per pair. Two varieties are recognized in Hyparrhenia filipendula: var. filipendula and var. pilosa (Hochst.) Stapf. The latter is very similar to and easily confused with Hyparrhenia hirta, but can be characterized by soft hairy spikelets, combined with the long shaggily hairy awns and longer callus of Hyparrhenia filipendula.

Several other species of Hyparrhenia are also used for thatching and weaving. Hyparrhenia barteri (Hack.) Stapf is an annual grass, with erect stems up to 2 (–2.5) m tall, solitary or in tufts. It occurs from Togo and Nigeria eastward to the Central African Republic and southward through Cameroon and the Congo basin to Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. In Nigeria the stems are used for making rope and mats. Hyparrhenia cyanescens (Stapf) Stapf is a robust perennial grass with stems up to 3 m tall, occurring from Senegal eastward to Nigeria and southward to Angola. In northern Nigeria it is used for thatching. It is of little value as fodder as it flowers early. Hyparrhenia involucrata Stapf is a robust annual grass up to 2 m tall, occurring from Upper Guinea through Nigeria to Chad and the Central African Republic. The stems are used for thatching and for making mats. Hyparrhenia subplumosa Stapf is a robust, perennial grass with stems up to 3 m long. It is widespread in West Africa from Senegal eastward to Cameroon, and is occasionally collected southward to DR Congo and Angola, and eastward to Tanzania and Malawi. The stems are generally considered good thatch. Salka people of Nigeria chop up the stems to serve as reinforcement in mud-blocks for building. The bristly points on the stems make them unsuitable for matting, but they have been recorded to be usable for paper-pulp. Hausa people hold a prejudice against the stems used as brooms lest the user loses his goods and dies. The grass is palatable to cattle when still young.

Growth and development

In a pot experiment, weekly or bi-weekly clipping of the leaves at 10 or 15 cm height, combined with irrigation, led to increased leaf growth, while clipping combined with nitrogen fertilizer application led to increased tillering. Only high levels of water and nitrogen combined led to significantly increased yields; the rate of photosynthesis was found to be increased by clipping.


Hyparrhenia filipendula is common in well-drained grassland, open woodland and miombo woodland, from sea-level up to 2250 m altitude. It requires an annual rainfall of at least 625 mm and tolerates a pronounced dry season. In DR Congo it succeeds Hyparrhenia diplandra (Hack.) Stapf at elevations below 1700 m when the land is regularly cleared for crop growing.

Propagation and planting

Hyparrhenia filipendula spreads mainly by seed.


At Mt Makulu Research Station (Zambia), cutting Hyparrhenia filipendula dominated pastures 2–4 times per year (according to the frequency with which it reached a height of 30 cm) over a period of 9 years changed the botanical species composition of the vegetation. Shorter grasses, such as Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers., Digitaria milanjiana (Rendle) Stapf, Heteropogon contortus (L.) P.Beauv. ex Roem. & Schult. and Microchloa kunthii Desv., became dominant at the expense of Hyparrhenia filipendula which resulted in an overall improvement in nutritive value. In Uganda heavy stocking of Hyparrhenia filipendula dominated pasture led to its replacement by Brachiaria decumbens Stapf, which is a much more nutritious grass. Hyparrhenia filipendula grassland generally requires periodic burning late in the dry season. Biennial fires encouraged both Hyparrhenia filipendula and Themeda triandra in Uganda. Burning late in the dry season in Zambia controls encroachment of Acacia spp., but if done too often it leads to decreased plant cover; in a trial, ground cover by Hyparrhenia filipendula was halved after repeated burning for 3 years.

Diseases and pests

From Hyparrhenia filipendula affected by smut, several fungi were isolated. These included Sporisorium ischaemoides, Sporisorium leelingianum, Sporisorium transfissum, and Sporisorium vanderystii.


In western Kenya dry matter yields of a Hyparrhenia grassland increased from 3670 kg/ha unfertilized to 7595 kg/ha when fertilized with 300 kg N/ha; additional application of 105 kg P2O5/ha increased yields to 9885 kg/ha. In the experiment it was concluded, however, that it was uneconomical to fertilize pure natural grassland and that legumes, for instance Desmodium species, should be introduced to make better use of fertilizer. In DR Congo Hyparrhenia grassland produced 28,800 kg/ha and 25,600 kg/ha of green matter in 2 successive years.

Genetic resources

Hyparrhenia filipendula is common and often dominant in grasslands in Africa. There are no indications that it is in danger of genetic erosion.


No selection or breeding work is known.


Hyparrhenia filipendula will remain a valuable source of thatch. It is likely to remain an important component of natural grasslands in tropical Africa and South Africa, although better management will increase the proportion of more nutritious or palatable grasses. It is unlikely that Hyparrhenia filipendula will become a component of sown grasslands in Africa or elsewhere, as better forage grasses are available for areas where it can be grown.

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., 1969. A revision of Hyparrhenia. Kew Bulletin, Additional Series 2, H.M.S.O., London, United Kingdom. 195 pp.
  • Clayton, W.D. & Renvoize, S.A., 1982. Gramineae (part 3). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. pp. 451–898.
  • Cope, T.A., 2002. Gramineae, tribe Andropogoneae. In: Pope, G.V. & Martins, E.S. (Editors). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 10, part 4. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 190 pp.
  • Keya, N.C.O., 1973. The effect of NP fertilizers on the productivity of Hyparrhenia grassland. East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal 39(2): 195–200.
  • Keya, N.C.O. & Kalangi, D.W., 1973. The seeding and superphosphate rates for the establishment of Desmodium uncinatum (Jacq.) DC. by oversowing in uncultivated grasslands of Western Kenya. Tropical Grasslands 7(3): 319–325.
  • Phillips, S., 1995. Poaceae (Gramineae). In: Hedberg, I. & Edwards, S. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 7. Poaceae (Gramineae). The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. 420 pp.
  • Skerman, P.J. & Riveros, F., 1990. Tropical grasses. FAO Plant Production and Protection Series No 23. Rome, Italy. 832 pp.
  • 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.
  • van Rensburg, H.J., 1968. Growth and seasonal composition of natural grassland in Zambia. Grass and Forage Science 23(1): 51–52.

Other references

  • Boonman, J.G., 1993. East African grasses and fodders: their ecology and husbandry. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands. 343 pp.
  • Bunda College of Agriculture, 1998. A comparison of the browsing and grazing behaviour of goats and sheep and the composition of natural pasture. [Internet] In: Improved integration of small ruminants with a view to economical and ecologically sustainable production in smallholder crop-livestock systems in southern Africa. Bunda College of Agriculture, Lilongwe, Malawi & Humboldt University of Berlin, Centre for International Agricultural Development & Institute of Animal sciences, Berlin Germany. http://www.ilri.org/ InfoServ/Webpub/fulldocs/AnGenResCD/docs/eurep-98/ chapter5.htm. April 2011.
  • Chippindall, L.K.A., 1955. A guide to the identification of grasses in South Africa. In: Meredith, D. (Editor). The grasses and pastures of South Africa. Cape Times, Cape Town, South Africa. 771 pp.
  • Chippindall, L.K.A. & Crook, A.O., 1976. 240 Grasses of southern Africa. 3 volumes. Collins, Salisbury, Zimbabwe.
  • Clayton, W.D., 1972. Gramineae. In: Hepper, F.N. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 3, part 2. pp. 277–574.
  • Clayton, W.D., 1975. Some discriminant functions for Hyparrhenia. Studies in the Gramineae XLI. Kew Bulletin 30(3): 511–520.
  • Clayton, W.D., Harman, K.T. & Williamson, H., 2002–. GrassBase - the online world grass flora. [Internet] Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom.http://www.kew.org/ data/grasses-db/. August 2007.
  • Coughenour, M.B., McNaughton, S.J. & Wallace, L.L., 1985. Responses of an African tall-grass (Hyparrhenia filipendula Stapf.) to defoliation and limitations of water and nitrogen. Oecologia 68(1): 80–86.
  • Dougall, H.W. & Bogdan, A.V., 1958. The chemical composition of grasses of Kenya. Part I. East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal 24(1): 17–23.
  • Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. & Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medical practitioner in Zimbabwe: his principles of practice and pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe. 411 pp.
  • Harrington, G.N. & Pratchett, D., 1974. Stocking rate trials in Ankole, Uganda. II. Botanical analysis and oesophageal fistula sampling of pastures grazed at different stocking rates. Journal of Agricultural Science 82: 507–516.
  • Myalyosi, R.B.B., 1992. Influence of livestock grazing on range condition in south-west Masailand, northern Tanzania. Journal of Applied Ecology 29(3): 581–588.
  • Neuwinger, H.D., 2000. African traditional medicine: a dictionary of plant use and applications. Medpharm Scientific, Stuttgart, Germany. 589 pp.
  • South African National Standard, 2004. Specification for grass. [Internet] SANS 10407:2004. Thatched roof construction. Edition 1. South African Thatchers Association, Lyttelton, South Africa. http://www.sa-thatchers.co.za/ wp-content/uploads/2010/09/ SpecificationForGrass.pdf. April 2011.
  • Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp.


  • S. Kativu, Tropical Resource Ecology Programme (TREP), Department of Biological Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe

Correct citation of this article

Kativu, S., 2011. Hyparrhenia filipendula (Hochst.) Stapf. [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 12 July 2021.