Buffel grass (Pennisetum ciliare)

California  Pest Rating
Buffel grass (Pennisetum ciliare)
Pest Rating:  D  |  Proposed Seed Rating:  None

Initiating Event:

A new find of this plant submitted to the Plant Laboratory for identification.

History & Status:

Background:  Buffelgrass is a long-lived perennial bunchgrass. It is a densely tufted perennial, with deeply penetrating roots and erect stems to 60 cm tall. It was introduced into North America as livestock foage in arid areas. Its weedy qualities suit it for desert range conditions. It is listed as a noxious weed in Arizona.

California Distribution: Buffelgrass has been collected in Imperial, Orange, Riverside and San Bernadino Counties.

California Interceptions: Several vouchers have been submitted to CDFA for identification.

United States:  Buffelgrass was introduced into Texas and Arizona in the 1930s and 1940s to stabilize overgrazed rangelands and provide livestock forage. Buffelgrass also established in Arizona from seed dispersed from Sonora, Mexico where over 1,000,000 acres of native desert and thornscrub vegetation was converted to buffelgrass pasture. Buffelgrass also was introduced into Hawaii.

International:  Buffelgrass is native to Africa, India, and western Asia. It is introduced in North and South America and in Australia.

The risk Buffelgrass would pose to California is evaluated below.

Consequence of Introduction:

1)  Climate/Host Interaction:  Risk is High (3), as buffelgrass is naturalized in the desert throughout Southwestern North America and is spreading.

Evaluate if the pest would have suitable hosts and climate to establish in California. Score:

Low (1) Not likely to establish in California; or likely to establish in very limited areas.
Medium (2) may be able to establish in a larger but limited part of California.
High (3) likely to establish a widespread distribution in California.

2)  Host Range:  Risk is High (3) as weeds do not require any one host, but grow wherever ecological conditions are favorable.

Evaluate the host range of the pest. Score:

Low (1) has a very limited host range.
Medium (2) has a moderate host range.
High (3) has a wide host range.

3)  Pest Dispersal Potential:  Buffelgrass seeds are light, umbrella-like, and dispersed primarily by wind and water. Barbed bristles on buffelgrass fruits allow for long-distance dispersal in animal skin and fur.  Motor vehicles also disperse buffelgrass seed.  Buffelgrass can begin producing seeds at 3 months from germination and continue seed production for more than 10 years. Therefore, buffelgrass receives a High (3) in this category.

Evaluate the natural and artificial dispersal potential of the pest. Score:

Low (1) does not have high reproductive or dispersal potential.
Medium (2) has either high reproductive or dispersal potential.
High (3) has both high reproduction and dispersal potential.

4)  Economic Impact:  Buffelgrass has been used as forage in arid environments, and this is a positive economic value. But when buffelgrass invades new habitats, there is often a loss of soil fertility, an increase in soil erosion that increases surface water runoff, and this results in degraded water quality. Buffelgrass receives a Low (1) in this category.

Evaluate the economic impact of the pest to California using the criteria below. Score:

A.   The pest could lower crop yield.
B.   The pest could lower crop value (includes increasing crop production costs).
C.   The pest could trigger the loss of markets (includes quarantines).
D.   The pest could negatively change normal cultural practices.
E.   The pest can vector, or is vectored, by another pestiferous organism.
F.   The organism is injurious or poisonous to agriculturally important animals.
G.   The organism can interfere with the delivery or supply of water for agricultural uses.

Low (1) causes 0 or 1 of these impacts.
Medium (2) causes 2 of these impacts.
High (3) causes 3 or more of these impacts.

5)  Environmental Impact:  In Hawaii, buffelgrass invades and dominates a variety of vegetation types. In natural areas, it tends to form dense swards that exclude native vegetation, decreasing biodiversity and altering successional processes. In upland arid regions, buffelgrass can transform native desert shrub and thornscrub into grasslands. For instance, in Arizona buffelgrass excludes native shrubs such as creosote (Larrea tridentata), saltbush (Atriplex spp.), and bursage (Ambrosia spp.) and their associated native grasses and forbs. In Hawaii, buffelgrass displaces native pili grass (Heteropogon contortus) communities and discourages the succession of native woody species. In lowland riparian areas, buffelgrass can replace native riparian vegetation along riverbanks. In the arid areas of Queensland, Australia, buffelgrass outcompetes and displaces native grasses and riparian vegetation. By dominating riparian areas and their moist refuges within arid regions, buffelgrass threatens keystone habitats that are vital to the survival of many plant and animal species. Buffelgrass could negatively affect sensitive desert riparian species such as the federally endangered Southwestern Willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus). Therefore, buffelgrass receives a High (3) in this category.

Evaluate the environmental impact of the pest on California using the criteria below.

A.   The pest could have a significant environmental impact such as lowering biodiversity, disrupting natural communities, or changing ecosystem processes.
B.   The pest could directly affect threatened or endangered species.
C.   The pest could impact threatened or endangered species by disrupting critical habitats.
D.   The pest could trigger additional official or private treatment programs.
E.   The pest significantly impacts cultural practices, home/urban gardening or ornamental plantings.

Score the pest for Environmental Impact. Score:

Low (1) causes none of the above to occur.
Medium (2) causes one of the above to occur.
High (3) causes two or more of the above to occur.

Consequences of Introduction to California for buffelgrass: High (13)

Add up the total score and include it here.

–  Low = 5-8 points
–  Medium = 9-12 points
–  High = 13-15 points

6)  Post Entry Distribution and Survey Information:  Buffelgrass is regional in CA. It receives a Medium (-2) in this category.

Evaluate the known distribution in California. Only official records identified by a taxonomic expert and supported by voucher specimens deposited in natural history collections should be considered. Pest incursions that have been eradicated, are under eradication, or have been delimited with no further detections should not be included.

–  Not established (0) Pest never detected in California, or known only from incursions.
–  Low (-1) Pest has a localized distribution in California, or is established in one suitable climate/host area (region).
–  Medium (-2) Pest is widespread in California but not fully established in the endangered area, or pest established in two contiguous suitable climate/host areas.
–  High (-3) Pest has fully established in the endangered area, or pest is reported in more than two contiguous or non-contiguous suitable climate/host areas.

Final Score:

The final score is the consequences of introduction score minus the post entry distribution and survey information score:  Medium (11)


This plant has been known in SW North America for over 80 years and spreading colonies have been detected. So, there is low uncertainty.

Conclusion and Rating Justification:

Proposed Rating: based on the score listed above, the pest is medium risk for further invasions of California. This plant shows invasive qualities; in California it is already known from 5 counties. Nevertheless, as buffelgrass is an official crop in California, a “D” rating is justified.


Baldwin, B. G., D. H. Goldman, D. J. Keil, R. Patterson, T. J. Rosatti, & D. H. Wilken, editors. 2012. The Jepson manual: vascular plants of California, second edition. University of California Press, Berkeley.

CalFlora: http://www.calflora.org/cgi-bin/species_query.cgi?where-calrecnum=12041

Collinette, S. 1999. Wildflowers of Saudi Arabia. National Commission for Wildlife Conservation, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Riyadh.

Consortium of California Herbaria:  cjeps.berkeley.edu/consortium/
Daehler, C.C. & D.A. Carino. 1998. Recent replacement of native pili grass (Heteropogon contortus) by invasive African grasses in the Hawaiian Islands. Pacific Science 53: 220-227.

Hauser, A. S. 2008. Pennisetum ciliare. In: Fire Effects Information System. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Accessed 1/25/2015:

Tu, M. Pennisetum ciliare in Bugwood Wiki accessed 1/27/2015: http://wiki.bugwood.org/Pennisetum_ciliare

Ward, J. P.; S. E. Smith, & M. P. McClaran. 2006. Water requirements for emergence of buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare). Weed Science. 54: 720-725.

Responsible Party:

Dean G. Kelch, Primary Botanist; California Department of Food and Agriculture; 1220 N Street, Sacramento, CA 95814;
Tel. (916) 654-0312; plant.health[@]cdfa.ca.gov.

Pest Rating: D  |  Proposed Seed Rating: None

Posted by ls