Pogonarthria squarrosa

(Roem. & Schult.) Pilg.
Family : Poaceae
Common names : herringbone grass, sickle grass

Herringbone grass

A loosely tufted grass with interesting, reddish brown inflorescences, has led to its common name, herringbone or sickle grass.

Erect, perennial grass, growing up to 1.2 m tall. The long, tapering inflorescence is up to 400 mm long, has a firm, straight, central axis with numerous short, usually upward-curving branches ( hence the name herringbone); the spikelets are arranged all along the branches on the lower side. Spikelets are elliptic to linear, up to 8 mm long, with numerous sharply pointed, green florets, these contrast with the red to reddish brown glumes. Flowering time is from November to May.

Close up

Distribution and Habitat
This grass is widespread in South Africa , growing in well-drained and especially sandy soils. It is common in disturbed places such as roadsides and old cultivated lands.


Derivation of name and historical aspects
The meaning of the genus name Pogonarthria comes from the Greek pogon meaning beard, and arthron, a joint and probably refers to the beaded joints of the rhachilla in the spikelet. The specific epithet squarrosa is Latin and means a tip projecting outwards, usually at a angle of 90º, probably referring to the position of the stiff inflorescence branches.

There are four species all occurring in Africa , of which P. squarrosa is the only perennial.

The grass is an indicator of poor, sandy soils, old lands and disturbed areas.

Uses and cultural aspects
Pogonarthria squarrosa is a hard, unpalatable grass, therefore seldom grazed. As it is a subclimax grass that colonizes disturbed areas, it would be useful in preventing erosion. There are reports of the culms (stems) being tied together and used as hand brooms.

Herringbone glass

Growing Pogonarthria squarrossa

Up to now, indigenous grasses have seldom been used in gardens, therefore not much is known about the cultivation especially of the non-pasture grasses, nor are seeds or plants easy to obtain. However, this is changing as people become aware of how grasses can add interest to the garden as a feature. Many also attract birds and other wild life to the garden.

Pogonarthria squarrossa with its unusual inflorescence and red-brown colour, would be an asset to a garden. Since it is found in disturbed areas, it should be quite easy to grow in a sandy inland garden.

References and further reading

  • Chippindall, L.K.A. & Crook, A.O. 1976. 240 grasses of southern Africa , part 175. Collins, Salisbury.
  • Gibbs Russell, G.E., Watson, L., Koekemoer, M., Smook, L., Barker, N.P., Anderson, H.M. & Dallwitz, M.J. 1991. Grasses of southern Africa . Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa No. 58.
  • Van Oudtshoorn, F. 1999. A guide to the grasses of southern Africa . Briza Publications, Pretoria.

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This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website www.plantzafrica.com