The Indian sandbur (Cenchrus biflorus Roxb.) is a tufted annual grass with ascending culms, up to 0.9-1 m high (Skerman et al., 1990; Clayton et al., 2006). The plant roots and branches from the constricted nodes. The stems are cylindrical, smooth and glabrous. The leaves are alternate with linear blades, 2-35 cm long x 5-8 mm broad. The leaf surfaces are rough, puberulous or pilose (Clayton et al., 2006). The inflorescence is a spike-like panicle, 3-15 cm long x 9-12 mm in diameter. The rachis bears 1-3 lanceolate spikelets enclosed by a diamond-shaped involucre of prickly bristles (Skerman et al., 1990; Clayton et al., 2006). The involucres, or burs (burrs), are deciduous when the seed becomes mature. The burs strongly adhere to fur or skin for dissemination, and can hurt animals and humans (see Potential constraints on the "Nutritional aspects" tab) (Burkill, 1985).
While it is difficult to thresh, Cenchrus biflorus is a multi-purpose cereal that provides edible and highly nutritious grains (Brink, 2006; Burkill, 1985). It is considered a famine food in several areas (Sahel, India) (Burkill, 1985). In the Sahel, its grain is regularly collected by the Tuareg people (Brink, 2006). The grain can be eaten raw or prepared into couscous or porridge. It can be used to make refreshing drinks, unleavened breads (kisra) in Sudan and cakes in Mauritania (Brink, 2006; Burkill, 1985). The leaves are eaten in times of scarcity in the Thar desert in India. During favourable years in India, the grain is mixed with sugar and ghee (clarified butter) to prepare a childrens’ delicacy (Brink, 2006).
The Indian sandbur is a valuable fodder plant, particularly at early stages of development or after the grains and the spiny involucres have fallen off. It can be cut several times during the rainy season and made into hay or silage. A drought-resistant forage, it is of utmost importance during the dry season (Brink, 2006). In the Sahel, Cenchrus biflorus sometimes constitute the only available fodder throughout the dry season (Maliki, 1981). Despite these desirable characteristics, it is often considered a noxious weed (Brink, 2006).