Setaria megaphylla (Steud) Dur. & Schinz

Common name: Ribbon grass, Broad-leafed bristle grass
Family: Poaceae (Grass Family)

Setaria megaphylla

The broad-leafed bristle grass is a very tall, robust, tufted, perennial grass which is shade loving. It may be found along rivers in low-lying areas or forests and in dense bushveld where there is plenty of moisture. It occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, America and India where there is high rainfall. In South Africa this species is mostly found in the summer rainfall areas in the savanna, grassland and forest biomes.

The plant genus name Setaria is derived from the Latin word 'seta', meaning a bristle; and the species megaphylla from the Greek word 'mega' which means large and 'phylla' the leaf. This name describes the size of the leaves.

This grass plays a major role in water purification as it absorbs excess nutrients from the water. It can also be used to stabilize unstable soil and prevent soil erosion. This is because it naturally colonises disturbed areas and is often found near water.

As a pasture grass it is good for grazing while still young when it is palatable with high leaf production. This species may be confused with S. lindenburgiana, which has smaller leaves and inflorescences.

Growing Setaria megaphylla

Setaria megaphyllaThis species is very attractive and may be used as a garden ornamental, lining the borders of larger beds with its pendulous flowers. It can be planted in groups or clusters. The colour of the foliage is an attractive green and it remains green until late in the growing season. Good texture and colour combinations can be created by using this grass effectively in the garden. Its leaf texture also makes it an attractive choice for a container. Setaria megaphylla attracts birds to the garden as finches; canaries and other seed eating birds eat the seed. The leaves are also used by weavers to build their nests.

The best propagation technique of this type of perennial grass is by division as it forms large rootstocks and creeping stolons. Sexual propagation by means of seed can also be done, although in most instances large quantities of seed will not be available. Seed should be collected once the inflorescence has dried out. The dry inflorescences must be removed, placed in paper bags and shaken to release and catch the seeds. The best time to sow the seed is from December to February (midsummer).


  • Bromilow, C. 1995. Problem plants of South Africa. Briza Publications. Cape Town.
  • Gibbs Russell, G.E. 1990. Grasses of Southern Africa. National Botanic Gardens/ Botanical Research Institute Publishers. Pretoria.
  • Van Oudtshoorn, F.P. 1999. Guide to Grasses of South Africa. Briza Publications. Cape Town.
  • Van Oudtshoorn, F.P. 1992. Guide to Grasses of South Africa. Briza Publications. Cape Town.

    A. Hankey and L. Mashinini
    Witwatersrand National Botanic Garden
    April 2002

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