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Desert grass (Panicum turgidum)


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

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


Panicum turgidum 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, bamboo-like and smooth, and 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).


The grain of Panicum turgidum looks like millet grain. It is eaten by birds and humans. In times of scarcity, people collect it the wild and and grind it into a meal and boiled to make porridge. High grain yield types have been reported in the Middle East (Brink, 2006). Young leaves and shoots provide valuable, palatable fodder for all stocks. During the dry season, only camels and donkeys may keep grazing it. The roots provide a tanning agent and the stems are used for thatching and mat manufacturing (Brink, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006). Desert grass is used in ethnomedicine for its antipyretic and anti-inflammatory activities (Ahmad et al., 2014) and wound healing (Brink, 2006; Quattrocchi, 2006).


Panicum turgidum is found in the Northern hemisphere between 4 and 38°N. It occurs in Northern and northeastern Africa, from Mauritania in the West to Somalia in the East (Bogdan, 1977). It also grows in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan (Quattrocchi, 2006). Desert grass is mainly found in dense bushes in depressions and river beds, deep sand dunes and sandy plains, seashores, in arid sandy and rocky waste areas, 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.

Panicum turgidum is outstandingly resistant to droughts. However, it cannot survive 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 in the 6.5-7 range, though it tolerates pH 6-8. Desert grass is tolerant of poor soils and saline soils (Ecocrop, 2019; Quattrocchi, 2006; Bogdan, 1977). During dry spells, Panicum turgidum remains dormant and recovers very quickly after the 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, Panicum turgidum propagates by bending its stems that root from the nodes (FAO, 2016). In cultivation, it can be propagated by root cuttings though it is still possible to sow it superficially when temperatures are in the 25-35°C range (Brink, 2006). In sandy soils, no soil preparation is required (FAO, 2016). Panicum turgidum remains dormant during dry spells: 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

Panicum turgidum is able to agregate grains of sand thanks to its extensive and felt-like rootsystem. It is useful for erosion control, for the rehabilitation of desert ranges and the stabilization of sand dunes that are wind-blown and unstable (Ecocrop, 2019; Quattrocchi, 2006). Desert grass can grow on steep slopes (Ecocrop, 2019).

Fodder production in saline areas

Panicum turgidum is a promising fodder species for saline areas as it could produce 60 t/ha/year of fresh matter 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). Its association with 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, Panicum turgidum is dominant in locust-laying areas and it is a feed for young locusts (Brink, 2006).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Panicum turgidum has a moderate to low nutritional value, with an average protein content of about 7% DM and a high amount of fibre (crude fibre > 30% DM). Studies in Algeria, Pakistan and Egypt show that the its nutritive value varies widely with the season and the maturity stage, with crude protein values ranging from from 1.3 to 13% DM (Attia-Ismail, 2016; Khan et al., 2009; Rahim et al., 2008; Sultan et al., 2007; Zirmi-Zembri et al., 2016). The ash content of Panicum turgidum is much lower than that of other halophytes species (which can reach 34-60% in some species). It is mostly composed of sodium and chloride, but the amount is not prohibitive for consumption, and may alleviate some of the need for salt licks (Khan et al., 2009)

Potential constraints 

Unlike other halophyte species, Panicum turgidum is remarkably devoid of harmful constituents and does not contain excessive amounts of ash and sodium chloride. 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 livestock (Khan et al., 2009).


Panicum turgidum is a grass of moderate to low nutritional value, but its palatability and availability in arid and/or brackish areas make it valuable for ruminants, notably sheep, goats and camels. It was reported to be one of the most palatable grasses for small ruminant livestock in the United Arab Emirates (Salih, 2000 cited by Adam, 2015).


In vitro DM digestibility was 58% at early bloom and 40 % at maturity, resulting in estimated ME values of 7.9 MJ/kg and 5. MJ/kg respectively (Rahim et al., 2008).


On the saline coast of Balochistan (Pakistan), Panicum turgidum grown on brackish water was fed to 1-year calves (140 kg) in partial or full replacement of maize grain. The grass, fed at 1 to 4 kg/d, was readily accepted as a main feed component, and able to replace maize, without any significant effect on animal thirst or growth and meat production. By removing the need for maize production, it could be possible to free up non-saline soils for other essential crops (Khan et al., 2009).


In the trans-Himalayan marginal grasslands of Pakistan, desert grass was the second preferred grass by sheep among 12 species and its potential intake rate was about 48 g/4 minutes (the highest was 55g/4 min for Cynodon dactylon). 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 supplement 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 South Bahrain, Panicum turgidum was reported to represent a small part of the diet (among 11 species) of the Arabian Rheem gazelle (Gazella leptoceros)(Mohamed et al., 1991).


No information could be found in the international literature on the use of Panicum turgidum for rabbit feeding. Since it is commonly used by ruminants, desert grass may be considered for feeding rabbits as a potential forage with a moderate to very low protein content. However, direct experiments with rabbits would be useful before giving general and precise recommendations. Alcoholic extracts of desert grass were reported to significantly reduce artificially induced fever in the rabbit and this antipyretic activity was 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 

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 44.9 14.6 20.3 69.8 52  
Crude protein % DM 6.2 3.4 1.9 16.4 52  
Crude fibre % DM 40.6 2.9 34.2 46.1 48  
Neutral detergent fibre % DM 74.9 8.5 55 77.9 5 *
Acid detergent fibre % DM 46.6 9.2 22 47.9 5 *
Lignin % DM 6.8 3.6 3.5 12.2 5 *
Ether extract % DM 1.9 0.4 1 2.7 37  
Ash % DM 7.8 1.9 5.3 13.5 52  
Insoluble ash % DM 3.2 2 1.2 9.8 37  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.4         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 5 2 2.1 11.5 40  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 1.9 1.1 0.1 5.1 40  
Potassium g/kg DM 13.4 7.3 1.1 31 36  
Sodium g/kg DM 1.22       1  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.8 1.2 1.5 6.3 34  
Manganese mg/kg DM 57 34 8 114 15  
Zinc mg/kg DM 19 8 8 34 15  
Copper mg/kg DM 3 2 0.4 8 15  
Ruminants nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 52.6       1 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 50.2         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 9.3         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 7.5         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 26.3         *
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=6%) % 25       1 *
Dry matter degradability (effective, k=4%) % 28         *
a (DM) % 13       1  
b (DM) % 37       1  
c (DM) h-1 0.028       1  
Rabbit nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Energy digestibility, rabbit % 31.9         *
DE rabbit MJ/kg DM 5.9         *
MEn rabbit MJ/kg DM 5.7         *
Nitrogen digestibility, rabbit % 51.2         *

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


Abideen et al., 2011; CIRAD, 1991; Khan et al., 2009; Rafay et al., 2013; Rahim et al., 2008; Sultan et al., 2007; Susmel et al., 1995

Last updated on 03/11/2019 22:25:23

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Lebas F., 2019. Desert grass (Panicum turgidum). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/25357 Last updated on November 13, 2019, 15:36

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