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Buffel Grass
(Cenchrus ciliaris)

Buffel - illustration
  • very hardy
  • drought tolerant
  • prefers reasonably fertile soils
  • varieties for heavy and light soils.


Cenchrus ciliaris L.
1 habit,
2 ligule,
3 inflorescence,
4 spikelet with involucre

Buffel grass can be variable in habit, but all types are very drought tolerant and can withstand heavy grazing once established. Buffel grass has a larger and deeper root system than Rhodes grass or green panic. Swollen stem bases accumulate carbohydrates, allowing it to survive drought and fire, and to come away very quickly after drought-breaking rains. Although it flowers soon after rain, it can continue to shoot strongly during flowering.

Buffel grasses are sown on soils of reasonable fertility in regions with from 300-l,000 mm annual rainfall.

Buffel has a characteristic foxtail head, with seeds enclosed in fine bristles. Each cluster of bristles may contain more than one seed; Cloncurry buffel (C. pennisetiformis) has 1-4 seeds; Gayndah and Western Australia varieties 1-3, whilst tall varieties such as Biloela and Molopo usually have more single seeds.

Buffel grass is mainly summer-growing, and is less cold tolerant than green panic. It grows in soils of moderate fertility but with variable textures, prefering lighter texture but still performing well on self-mulching soils. However, it is sensitive to waterlogging, and has only moderate salt tolerance.

Buffel is not as demanding of fertility as green panic, and is well suited to the poorer types of softwood scrubs, the harder classes of country in brigalow scrubs, and the more fertile, lighter forest soils. It grows well in gidgee scrub country.

Buffel grass has low levels of sodium but a moderately high oxalate content. Horses grazing exclusively on buffel pastures can develop 'big head', associated with the oxalate content, but this can be overcome with access to other feed, and with calcium and phosphorus supplements.

Commercial paddocks of buffel grass in the southern USA and central America have been devastated by Buffel Blight. The new varieties, Bella and Viva, have shown good resistance.

Buffel varieties in commercial use may be conveniently grouped into tall, medium height, and short varieties.

Tall varieties

The tall varieties are most suited to heavier soils, higher rainfall, and for cattle production.
They grow to 1.5 m producing large bluish-coloured leaves, and develop underground rhizomes. The ground shoots are not very dense, and secondary shoots appear along the tall flowering stems under light grazing. They flower later than the short types, producing densely packed, straw-coloured seeds on the flowering head.

Biloela is the main tall variety now; it is fairly salt-tolerant. Nunbank, Boorara, Tarewinnabar and Molopo cultivars were selected for some superior features, but are not now sold widely. Nunbank was supposed to establish more easy, Boorara is leafier, while Tarewinnabar has better early spring growth and seedling vigour. Molopo is more cold tolerant, but is shy seeding.
Two new cultivars, Bella and Viva, are intermediate in height between Biloela and Gayndah. They are late flowering and have fewer rhizomes than Biloela.
Bella has been selected for its good establishment on heavy clays and black soils, and for its higher levels of sodium in the foliage, whereas Viva has been selected for its early spring growth and good establishment arising from very competitive seedlings.

Medium height varieties

The medium varieties are widely adapted, more suited to lighter textured soils, better in drier regions, and preferred for sheep production.
Gayndah is a more prostrate but denser tillered variety; it grows to about one metre high with shorter and fewer underground rhizomes, but with a more dense root system than Biloela. It is less vigorous, but is often preferred by stock. The straw-coloured seeds are less densely packed. Wind-blown seed has allowed Gayndah to naturalise over large areas of western Queensland, especially on the sandier gidgee country.
American has the fine stems and dense foliage of Gayndah, but it flowers a little earlier and the seed heads are purple in colour. Considerable quantities of `American' buffel seed have been imported from America.

Two new varieties, Bella and Viva, were selected for earlier growth in spring but have a distinct value in showing good resistance to Buffel Blight in America.

Cloncurry buffel (C. pennisetiformis) is an Indian species, shorter, laxer and earlier flowering. It has lost favour in recent years, but is better adapted to lower rainfall areas.

Short varieties

West Australian is a favourite in dry sheep country, growing a tussock of fine dense leaves to about 75 cm. It flowers very early, producing purple seeds.

Creator: Ian Partridge
Date created: 18 Mar 1998  Revised: 15 January 2003

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