Animal feed resources information system

Desert grass (Panicum turgidum)

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 

Desert grass, desert panic grass, wild grain grass, afezu grass, basket grass, Sahara millet [English]; الثمام المنتفخ [Arabic]; ارزن شن‌دوست [Farsi]; afazo, afezu, afoajo, afodio, afodjo, burekuba, foyo, mrokba, ullu; afeza, afezu, afodio, afodjo, fadhik, foyo, gajalol, gumchi, markuba [Mali, Niger]; darif, dungara, dhu-ghasi [Somali]; tumaan, tuman, taman [Sudan] (Wikipedia, 2019; Quattrocchi, 2006)

Feed categories 
Related feed(s) 

Desert grass (Panicum turgidum) is a coarse, tussocky, tropical or subtropical perennial grass suited to dry areas.  It is a multipurpose grass : the seeds are eaten by humans and birds, the vegetative parts make valuable fodder mainly for camels and donkeys and the stems are providing material for thatching and mats.


Desert grass is a coarse, woody and tussocky perennial grass that grows to a height of 1.5-2 m. It has a stout, fibrous root system that grows to 2 m deep and spreads to 3.5 m around. The culms are erect, bamboolike and smooth, they root and branch from the nodes. Desert grass is a leafy species. The leaves are alternate, simple, with stiff pungent leafblade, 20-30 cm long x 7 mm wide. The inflorescence is a terminal, moderately branched, pyramidal and loose panicle, 2.5-15 (-30) cm in length and 5-9 cm in breadth. The spikelets are ovoid, 3.5-4.5 mm long. The fruit is a caryopsis, 2 mm long, reddish in colour (Brink, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006).


Desert grass grain looks like millet grain. In times of scarcity, it is collected in the wild and eaten by humans who grind it into a meal to make porridge or boil it. In the Middle-East, high grain-yielding types have been reported to exist (Brink, 2006). The grain is also eaten by birds.  The young leaves and shoots provide valuable, palatable fodder for all stocks while during the dry season only camels and donkeys keep grazing it. The roots provide tanning agent and the stems are used for thatching and mat manufacturing. The stems are also used in ethnomedicine for healing wounds and in ethnoveterinary medicine (see rabbits section) (Brink, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006).


Desert grass occurs in Northern and northeastern Africa, from Mauritania in the West to Somalia in the East (Bogdan, 1977). It can also be found in Saudi Arabia, in Iran and Pakistan (Quattrocchi, 2006).

Desert grass is found in the Northern hemisphere between 4 and 38°N. It is mainly found in dense bushes in depressions and river beds, deep sand dunes and sandy plains, seashores, in the arid sandy and rocky waste places, on the edges of wadis and in oases, along wadi systems, irrigated plains, coastal lowland and coastal sand dunes (Brink, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006).

Desert grass is an important plant of the Sahara and Arabian deserts, where it forms hummocks, sometimes in nearly pure stands.

Desert grass is outstandingly resistant to droughts, however it cannot survive in places where annual rainfall is below 200-250 mm (Bogdan, 1977).It occurs from the Dead Sea Depression, at -380 m at Shor-es-Safiyeh, up to 3200 m altitude (FAO, 2016; Brink, 2006). Desert grass requires a sunny position and a very well-drained soil. It prefers a light to medium soil with pH ranging preferably between pH in the range 6.5 - 7, but tolerates 6 - 8. Desert grass is tolerant of poor soils and saline soils (Ecocrop, 2019; Quattrocchi, 2006; Bogdan, 1977). During dry spells desert grass remains dormant and recover very quickly after first rains (Bogdan, 1977).

Desert grass does not withstand heavy grazing and could be threatened by poor grazing management (Adam, 2015).

Forage management 

In the wild, the plant propagates by bend it stems that root from the nodes (FAO, 2016). In cultivation, desert grass can be propagated by root cuttings though it is still possible to sow it superficially with optimal range of temperature between 25-35°C (Brink, 2006). In sandy soils, no soil preparation is required (FAO, 2016).

During dry spells the grass remains dormant : it is then fibrous and not very palatable to livestock and only camels and donkeys eat it. When green, desert grass is palatable to all classes of livestock (Bogdan, 1977).

Environmental impact 

Soil reclamation and erosion control

Thanks to its extensive root and feltlike rootsystem, desert grass is able to agregate grains of sand: it is thus useful for erosion control and for rehabilitation of desert ranges and for sand dune stabilization event when they are wind-blown and still unstable (Ecocrop, 2019; Quattrocchi, 2006). Desert grass can also grow on steep slopes (Ecocrop, 2019).

Fodder production in saline areas

Desert grass was reported to be promising fodder species for saline areas as it could produce 60 tonnes fresh matter /ha/year when grown in saline soil (EC 10-15 mS cm−1) irrigated with brackish water (EC 10–12 mS.cm−1)(Khan et al., 2009). The association of Suaeda fruticosa alleviated the risk of soil salinization that occurred when desert grass was cultivated alone on brackish water irrigated areas (Khan et al., 2009)

Nest for locusts

In Sudan, it is dominant in locust laying areas and it is a feed for young locusts (Brink, 2006).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 


The ash content of desert grass is much lower than in many other halophytes species (13% vs. 34-60%)  (Khan et al., 2009). Oxalates are present in much lower levels (4.14%) than in many other local halophytes (ranging from 14% to 29% in various species), and the water soluble form can be easily metabolized by the animals (Khan et al., 2009).

Potential constraints 

Halophyte without constraint

Unlike other halophyte species, Desert grass is outstandingly deprived of constraints: no high salt, or excess harmful organic constituents like oxalates or secondary metabolites were reported in desert grass harvested foliage (Khan et al., 2009).


Desert grass was reported to be one of the most palatable for small ruminant livestock in the United Arab Emirates (Salih, 2000 cited by Adam, 2015).


On the saline coast of Balochistan (Pakistan), desert grass grown on brackish water was readily accepted as a main feed component in place (totally replacing) of maize, without any significant effect on animal thirst or growth and meat production (Khan et al., 2009).

In the trans-Himalayan marginal grasslands of Pakistan, desert grass was the second preferred grass among 12 species and its potential intake rate was about 48 g/4 minutes (the highest was 55g/4 min for Cynodon dactylon). Desert grass IVDMD was 58.4% at early bloom and 40.4 % at maturity. Its Metabolizable Energy was 7.87 MJ/kg and 5.23MJ/kg at the same stages (Rahim et al., 2008).

In Kuwait, sheep production could be increased by adequate management of rangelands of the Rhanterium and Cyperus Steppes which cover 50% of the rangelands. In these steppes, desert grass was reported to be the third species of importance to sheep (after Rhanterium and Cyperus species) (Taha et al., 1980).


In Western Sudan, desert grass is naturally found in association with Indian sandbur (Cenchrus biflorus) rangelands and it makes the low quality grassy diet of goats. It was recommended to complement this basal diet with shrubs and legume forages during the dry season in order to increase animal growth and reproduction performance (Ahmed et al., 1997)


Camels were reported to keep feeding on desert grass during the dry season when the grass is dormant and highly fibrous (Brink, 2006).

Wild animals

In the wild, in South Bahrain, desert grass (Panicum turgidum) was reported to represent a small part of the diet (among 11 species) of the Arabian Rheem gazelle (Mohamed et al., 1991).


No information could be found in the international literature on the use of any part of desert grass (Panicum turgidum) in rabbit feeding. Studies on the nutritive value of this forage traditionally used for ruminants were conducted in different countries, such as Algeria, Pakistan or Egypt. The nutritive value varied widely in relation with season and the vegetative stage of the plant for example from 1.3 to 13% DM for proteins (Attia-Ismail, 2016; Khan et al., 2009; Rahim et al., 2008; Sultan et al., 2007; Zirmi-Zembri et al., 2016). For these reasons, desert grass may be considered as a potential forage for rabbits (50-60% NDF in DM) with a moderate to very low content of proteins (1.3-13% DM). However direct experiments with rabbit would be useful before any general and precise recommendation.

It should be noticed that desert grass is known in ethnomedicine for its antipyretic and anti-inflammatory activities (Ahmad et al., 2014). Alcoholic extracts of desert grass were reported to significantly reduce artificially induced fever in the rabbit and this antipyretic activity was also dose dependant (Alam et al., 2016).

Horses and donkeys 

Donkeys are reported to keep feeding on desert grass during the dry season when the grass is dormant and highly fibrous (Brink, 2006)

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 
Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://feedipedia.org/node/25357 Last updated on September 5, 2019, 12:47

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