Cenchrus annularis Andersson
Cenchrus barbatus Schumach.
Cenchrus catharticus Delile
Cenchrus lapeta Ham. ex Stapf
Cenchrus leptacanthus A.Camus
Cenchrus niloticus Fig. & De Not.
Cenchrus perinvolucratus Stapf & C.E.Hubb.
Cenchrus rajasthanensis Kanodia & P.C.Nanda
Cenchrus triflorus Aitch.
Elymus caput-medusae Forssk.
Photograph by: Marco Schmidt
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Cenchrus biflorus is a loosely tufted, annual grass, with ascending stems (culms), growing up to 1 metre tall[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food. It is a very nutritious food, especially valuable in years where drought leads to the failure of cultivated crops.
The plant's spiny inflorescences may injure humans and grazing animals[
]. The reflexed hooks of the bristles on the burs of the inflorescence are pungent and adhere to clothing and pierce the skin[
Africa - through most of the continent from Algeria and Egypt south to S. Africa and Madagascar; through the Arabian Peninsula to Pakistan and India.
Usually found on dry sandy soils and in cultivated, overgrazed or otherwise disturbed areas, at elevations up to 1,300 metres. It is extremely abundant in the Sahel and southern Sahara, where it may form massive stands[
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Cenchrus biflorus is mostly found in semi-arid and arid regions of the tropics and subtropics, where it grows at elevations up to 1,300 metres[
]. Its northernmost dispersal in Africa is considered to mark the limit of the Sahel[
]. It is found in areas with a mean annual rainfall in the range 250 - 650mm[
]. It grows in areas that do not experience frost[
Requires a sunny position in a light, well-drained soil[
In spite of its usefulness, the plant is often considered to be a noxious weed of cultivation. It is aggressive in growth and tends to replace other grasses in mixed swards; the spiny inflorescences may injure humans and livestock and cause infection; these inflorescences adhere to hairs of animals and clothes, making possible the plant's wide dispersal[
The plant photosynthesizes by a more efficient method than most plants. Called the 'C4 carbon-fixation pathway', this process is particularly efficient at high temperatures, in bright sunlight and under dry conditions[
Seed - raw or cooked[
]. The seeds are pounded and eaten raw; made into porridge; or mixed and cooked with other foods[
]. A thin bread, known as 'kisra' is made from the grain in Sudan, whilst in Mauritania the ground grains are made into cakes[
]. In India it is mixed with pearl millet to make bread, or mixed with sugar and ghee, and eaten as a children’s food[
The seed is produced in a spiny inflorescence. It is pin-head sized and normally remains within the husk; threshing to release it is not easy. One way reported is to lightly fire the straw prior to threshing[
When mature, the spiny inflorescences fall to the sand in great quantities, often clinging together in giant masses that roll along with the wind, growing as they go. People sweep them up with bunches of straw or with giant 'combs.' They throw them into a wooden mortar and pound and winnow away the troublesome spines, leaving behind the white, flavourful seeds[
The seeds are highly nutritious, containing higher levels of protein and fats than most other cereals[
]. Analysis of material has been reported to contain 19 - 21% protein. Fat content at 8 - 9% is composed of: linoleic acid 42.5%, oleic acid 27.2%, palmitic acid 22.0%, and traces of others[
]. In areas of marginal subsistence the seeds are harvested regularly and form a regular part of the diet, but elsewhere, at least partly due to the plants spiny inflorescences, the seed is considered to be a famine food and is only eaten in times of need[
The grain is also made into a cooling drink[
The leaves are eaten during famine in the Thar desert in India[
The root is an ingredient of traditional aphrodisiac prescriptions[
The fruits (?seed[
]) are diuretic and pectoral[
Because the plant persists until the end of the dry season, it is sown against desertification in India[
Its presence is understood by nomadic peoples in Senegal to indicate soil suitable for growing millet and ground-nuts[
The hooked bristles of the inflorescence do show one beneficial attribute. Locust hoppers passing through belts of this grass become entangled with the hooks and many die, especially those immediately after ecdysis when their chitinous integument is still soft[
Seed - sow in situ. The optimum temperature for seed germination is 35°c[
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