Animal feed resources information system

Common thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta)

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


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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 places.


Common thatching grass (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 abobe a dense leafy tussock. The leaves are glaucous, glabrous or nearly so, alternate.The leafblade 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" would refer to the hairy spikelets. (Mashau, 2009)


Young common thatching grass (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. Common thatching grass can be used to weave mats also. A very drought resistant species, it can be used to reclame soil and control erosion (see environmental impact) (Kativu, 2011; Mashau, 2009).


Common thatching grass is native to the Mediterranean Basin and to Africa where it can be found to a more or less extent in almost all countries but equatorial ones. It has spread eastwards from there to the Middle East from Arabia to Pakistan and westwards its it is found in Cape Verde. It was introduced as a potential pasture species in the Americas and in Australia in the 1950's where it is reported to have become a weed  (McArdle et al., 2004).

It 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 can keep 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 can be 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 however able to grow during winter and provide green feed  (FAO, 2016).

Common thatching grass thrives in places where annual rainfall is ranging from 500 -1000 mm and it is outstandingly tolerant of drought. Common thatching grass does better well-drained, lighter textured granites to heavy black, stony soils. However it can be grown 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 already considered an invasive species in some parts of Australia (McArdle et al., 2004). Moreover, under climate change, common thatching grass is likely to expand into areas currently too cold for its survival but projected to become hotter and drier. It could then invade new areas and for this reason, it has been recommended to formulate effective prevention, surveillance and response measures in these areas (Chejara et al., 2010).

Nutritional aspects

Common thatching grass (Hyparrhenia hirta) is very productive and can be grazed with 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 common thatching 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 condition, 31 kg Merinos whethers with 1-point body condition score and supplemented with 150 g lupin/day/animal gained about 5 kg live weight and reached 2 points 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 grassland (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 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 (65-70% NDF), fresh plant or hay of Hyparrhenia hirta could be considered mainly as a potential fibre source in rabbit feeding

According to the low organic matter digestibility in the ruminants (32% - Mgheni et al., 2013), and the variable protein content (7 to 15%), the nutritive value of this forage for rabbits is most probably just a little bit better than that of wheat or barley straws. However direct experiment with rabbits would be advisable before being extensively used.

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 
Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://feedipedia.org/node/25043 Last updated on September 2, 2019, 13:55