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Kikuyu grass
(Pennisetum clandestinum)

Kikuyu - illustration  


  • dense creeping grass
  • suited to high fertility soils
  • for subtropical or tablelands
  • seeding varieties.

Pennisetum clandestinum Hochst. ex Chiov. -
1 habit of besal plant part; 2 ligule; 3 inflorescence; 4 spikelet.


Kikuyu grass is a low growing, deep-rooted perennial with stolons and rhizomes, and forms a dense turf very resistant to heavy grazing. The flowering stems are very short, and are practically enclosed by the leaves. Seed is difficult to harvest.

Kikuyu is grown from Tasmania to the Atherton Tableland in Queensland, on deep lighter textured soils. It usually needs more than 900 mm of annual rainfall unless planted in areas which receive additional run-off water, and demands high fertility, responding well to fertiliser.

Nitrogen supply will controls the proportion of kikuyu in a sward; mat grass dominance can be turned to kikuyu-dominance by the application of nitrogen fertiliser.

Kikuyu is cold-tolerant, and can make good autumn growth with adequate nitrogen. Kikuyu used to be planted from cuttings, in either early spring or late summer, but is now usually sown from seed. New plantings of kikuyu are highly palatable and nutritious, but the tight sward locks up nutrients, leading to nitrogen run-down.

Pastures can be renovated to restore productivity, or a legume can be incorporated. However, it can be difficult to maintain a good legume-grass balance even with white clover, unless the pasture is renovated in autumn and superphosphate applied.

Whittet is a taller variety which makes seed harvesting easier. It has broader leaves, thicker stems, and larger internodes on the stolons, and it persists better under lower fertility.

Crofts is a taller variety with more upright, narrower leaves than Whittet, and more cold tolerant. Although it is susceptible to the kikuyu yellows, the disease is not prevalent in the cool climates where Crofts is superior.

Breakwell has fine, narrow leaves and more prostrate runners, so forming a dense sward. Although it seeds freely, seed is rarely available now.

Noonan is very similar to Whittet and Breakwell (its parents), but is recommended for its high field tolerance to kikuyu yellows, a disease caused by a Phycomycete.

Creator: Ian Partridge,
Date created: 14 April 1998  Revised: 15 January 2003

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