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Common thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta)


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Common thatching grass, common thatchgrass, blue grass, blue stem, beard grass, coolatai grass, hirta grass, South African bluestem, tambookie grass, thatch grass [English], barbon, barbon hérissé, barbon velu, herbe barbue [French]; barboncino mediterraneopalha da Guiné [Portuguese]; cerrillo, fenas, fenas de cuca, fenal, jaragua gris, triquera borde [Spanish]; blougras, boesmangras, bosluisgras, dekgras, rauhes deckgras, dektamboekiegras, soetgras, steekgras, vaalgras [Afrikaner]; intunga [Zulu]; mofula-tsephe, mofulatshepe, mohlomo [Sotho]; muhwa kinyaturu [Tanzanian]; حمرور أشعر [Arabic]; 紅鞘草 [Chinese]


Common thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta (L.) Stapf. is a tufted, strongly rooted perennial grass that is mainly used as fodder and thatching material. It can also help controlling erosion and is considered a weed in some regions.


Hyparrhenia hirta is a perennial, leafy, and variable species that grows to a height of 0.5-1 m (-1.8 m during blooming). It has a strong root system. Its stems are wiry, arising from short rhizomes above a dense leafy tussock. The leaves are glaucous, glabrous or nearly so, and alternate.The leaf blade is linear or folded, 2-20 cm long x 1-3 (-4) mm wide. The inflorescence is a loose spatheate panicle containing only 2-10 pairs of pedicelled racemes (2-4 cm long). The racemes bear 4-7 (-8) hairy spikelets of two types: pedicelled male or sterile spikelets and sessile, fertile spikelets. The fruit is a very small caryopsis (1320 seeds/g) (FAO, 2016; Kativu, 2011). The epithet "hirta" refers to the hairy spikelets (Mashau, 2009).


When young, Hyparrhenia hirta is a valuable fodder. It can be grazed by all classes of livestock or it can be cut to make hay or silage. Old plants are coarse and unpalatable: they provide poor quality stand-over forage for deferred grazing. Common thatching grass is the main thatching material in South Africa. For fine thatching, the stems must comply with quality standards: a diameter between 1.2 and 2.5 mm at butt end, a length above 0.8 m, absence of seeds and loose material, straightness and maturity. It is also used to weave mats. A very drought-resistant species, Hyparrhenia hirta can be used to reclame soil and control erosion (see Environmental impact) (Kativu, 2011; Mashau, 2009).


Hyparrhenia hirta is native to the Mediterranean Basin and to Africa, where it can be found in most countries except equatorial ones. It spread eastwards to the Middle East from Arabia to Pakistan, and westwards to Cape Verde. It was introduced as a potential pasture species in the Americas and in Australia in the 1950s where it has become a weed (McArdle et al., 2004).

Hyparrhenia hirta occurs in open grassland, on rocky slopes and along rivers. It forms dense stands in disturbed areas such as uncultivated lands and roadsides where it keeps out other grasses for many years. The species occupies the largest area of road verges along the entire urban to rural gradient of southern Africa (Mashau, 2009). Common thatching grass is found from sea level in the Mediterranean Basin and from 1200 to 2500 m altitude in tropical Africa. It can germinate over a wide range of temperatures (10-40°C) but it is sensitive to frost and can be killed by hard winters in the USA. In Australia, it is able to grow during winter and provides green feed (FAO, 2016). Hyparrhenia hirta thrives in places where annual rainfall ranges from 500-1000 mm and it is outstandingly tolerant of drought. It does better well-drained, lighter textured granites to heavy black, stony soils, but it can grow on a wide range of soils, including hard stony soils and deep dry sands (FAO, 2016; Kativu, 2011; Mashau, 2009).

Environmental impact 


Common thatching grass is considered an invasive species in some parts of Australia (McArdle et al., 2004). Due to climate change, it is likely to invade in the future areas that currently too cold for its survival but projected to become hotter and drier, and it has been recommended to formulate effective prevention, surveillance and response measures in these areas (Chejara et al., 2010).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Information on the nutritive value of Hypparhenia hirta is scarce. It seems to have a low protein content (2.5 to 7% DM) and a very high fibre content (NDF 75-85% DM).



In vitro DM digestibility values ranging between 31 and 55% have been reported (Robles Cruz, 1990; Yayneshet et al., 2009).


Hyparrhenia hirta is very productive. It can be grazed at a high stocking rate (25-37 sheep /ha) for a short period and heavily grazed to maintain it at a leafy stage in Australia (Lodge et al., 2005). Heavy grazing can maintain this grass with a relatively good nutritive value over several years (Lodge et al., 2005). Low stocking rate increases herbage amount with mainly dead material which can be used in dry season with a small amount of supplement. In such conditions, Merinos whethers (31 kg, 1-point body condition score) supplemented with 150 g lupin/day/animal gained about 5 kg live weight and reached 2-point body condition score within 1 month (Lodge et al., 2005).

Common thatching grass is well consumed by both cattle and sheep when it is the main species in South African natural grasslands (O’Reagain et al., 1995). Feed intake is positively correlated with the leaf proportion (O'Reagain et al., 1996). However, when cattle or sheep have choice between common thatching grass and crop residues during the dry season, they prefer the latter (Bennett et al., 2007).


No information on Hyparrhenia hirta utilisation in rabbit feeding seems available from the international literature. Nevertheless, because it is used without any problem in ruminant feeding in different parts of Africa (Boussaid et al., 2004; Mgheni et al., 2013), and in relation with its high fibre content, fresh plant or hay of Hyparrhenia hirta could be considered for feeding rabbits, mainly as a source of fibre. Considering its rather poor chemical composition and its low reported digestibility in ruminants, the nutritive value of this forage for rabbits is most probably just a little bit better than that of a straw. However, feeding trials with rabbits would be advisable before using it extensively.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 43       1  
Crude protein % DM 4.2 1.5 2.4 6.4 7  
Crude fibre % DM 45.4         *
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 79.7 3.9 75.3 84.1 7  
Acid detergent fibre % DM 54.3 5.2 44.2 59 7  
Lignin % DM 8.2 1.7 5.6 10 7  
Ether extract % DM 1.5          
Ash % DM 7.8       1  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.4         *
In vitro digestibility and solubility Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
In vitro DM digestibility (pepsin) % 41 11 31 55 7  
In vitro OM digestibility (pepsin) % 53       1  
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 44.7         *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 42.7         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.9         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 6.3         *
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 31.4         *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Robles Cruz, 1990; Yayneshet et al., 2009

Last updated on 30/10/2019 00:35:17

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Hassoun P., Lebas F., 2019. Common thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/25043 Last updated on October 30, 2019, 0:38