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Giant star grass (Cynodon plectostachyus)


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Common names 

Giant star grass, star grass, naivasha star grass [English]; estrella, zacate estrella de África, pasto estrella, bermuda mejorado, hawaiiano, callie [Spanish]; capim estrela, estrela africana, estrela roxa [Portuguese]


Leptochloa plectostachyus K. Schum.

Taxonomic information 

Due to similar morphologies, the taxonomy of East African Cynodon species has been a source of confusion. Before 1970, Cynodon aethiopicus, Cynodon nlemfuensis and Cynodon plectostachyus were referred to as Cynodon dactylon and Cynodon aethiopicus (Taliaferro et al., 2004). However, Bogdan, 1977 stated that larger forms of C. dactylon with a few whorls of racemes were actually C. plectostachyus and he recommended to consider references to C. plectostachyus older than 1970 as referring to C. aethiopicus.

Related feed(s) 

Giant star grass (Cynodon plectostachyus (K. Schum.) Pilger) is a robust, stoloniferous perennial grass with underground rhizomes. The stolons are thick, woody, with long internodes arching above the soil surface. They are fast-growing and form dense turf. The culms are robust, 30-90 cm high. The leaves are 10-30 cm long and 4-7 mm wide, soft and hairy. Giant star grass bears several racemes (7-20), 3-7 cm long, curling upwards at maturity. The spikelets are 2.5-3 mm long. The glumes are a conspicuous feature, as they are reduced to small triangular scales one-fifth the length of the spikelet (Taliaferro et al., 2004; Bogdan, 1977). Giant star grass is palatable to all classes of livestock (Bogdan, 1977). It is considered a valuable pasture for drier areas, but of low competitive vigour when mixed in swards with Cynodon nlemfuensis (Taliaferro et al., 2004).


Cynodon plectostachyus is native of East Africa and is common, at an altitude of 800-2000 m, in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda along the Rift Valley (Bogdan, 1977). It is the most widespread grass in Mexico and Latin America (Yong-Angel et al., 2012). It is now naturalised throughout the tropics and sub-tropics (Bogdan, 1977). It grows in disturbed areas, in dry and light textured soils in grassland, cattle paddocks and roadsides (Cook et al., 2005; Bogdan, 1977).

Giant star grass is a fast summer-growing grass. It can grow on a wide range of soils, from sandy loams to black cracking clay soils, and in areas where rainfall may be as low as 400 mm or as high as 4000 mm. However, it does better where rainfall is between 500 mm and 1500 mm (FAO, 2013; Cook et al., 2005). It is drought tolerant and can also withstand temporary flooding. It has good tolerance of salinity and alkaline soils. Cynodon plectostachyus grows better in full light and may survive some frost but low temperatures reduce DM yield (FAO, 2013). It competes well with other grasses and weeds due to its aggressive growth and rapid propagation (Pozo et al., 2000; Clayton et al., 1970).


Cynodon plectostachyus is generally grazed, but it is also fed as hay. It has also been ensiled successfully (Esperance et al., 1985; Tuah et al., 1974).

Forage management 


Cynodon plectostachyus is propagated by planting freshly harvested stem cuttings (1 cutting/m²) at the beginning of the rainy season on a firm seed bed (Taliaferro et al., 2004).


DM yields range from 6 t/ha in unfertilized stands to 32 t/ha where fertilizer has been applied (Ecocrop, 2013; Lopez-Gonzalez et al., 2010). In the Northern hemisphere, yields are highest during the rainy season (June to October), decline during the dry season (February to May) and are lowest in winter (November to March) due to low temperatures and short photoperiods (Ludlow, 1985). N fertilizer, when applied, may range from 200 kg/ha/year to 800 kg/ha/year (Kawamoto, 2011). 


Giant star grass can be sown alone or in a silvopastoral system with Leucaena leucocephala and Prosopis juliflora, or with Eucalyptus (Baliscei et al., 2012; Mahecha et al., 2001). It has high tolerance of grazing and trampling by large herbivores, and heavy grazing was reported to improve its fitness (Yong-Angel et al., 2012; Georgiadis et al., 1988). High stocking rates (6-8 head/ha) are not detrimental to animal performance and improve sward production (Kawamoto, 2011; Georgiadis et al., 1988).

Hay and cut-and-carry

Giant star grass can be cut in order to be fed fresh or to make hay. Cutting intervals of 40 days were shown to give higher DM yields than 20-day and 30-day rest periods. However, cutting every 20 days resulted in a higher protein content, higher feed intake and feed efficiency (Intong, 1998). Giant star grass cut and offered in association with Cenchrus ciliaris provided good quality hay for pen-fed dairy cows (Bwire et al., 2003).

Environmental impact 

Agroforestry systems

Giant star grass is used in Central and South America (Mexico, Colombia, Argentina) in silvopastoral systems where it is intercropped with Leucaena leucocephala (Nahed-Toral et al., 2010; Goldfarb et al., 1995; Mahecha et al., 2000). It is less suitable than Brachiaria brizantha in such systems (Ramos-Quirarte et al., 2009).

Tolerance to saline soils

Giant star grass was found to be more tolerant to saline conditions than king grass (Pennisetum purpureum × Pennisetum glaucum hybrid), Napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum), Guinea grass (Megathyrsus maximus) and golden millet (Setaria sphacelata) (Purbajanti et al., 2010).

Erosion control

Giant star grass can be sown to protect soils against superficial erosion (Geissen et al., 2007). In Australia (Darling Downs, Queensland), it has been recommended in black clay soils and on the sandy soils of the coast (Skerman et al., 1990). In Mexico (Tabasco), giant star grass prevented superficial erosion though it was inefficient against sinkhole formation, because it could not alter groundwater properties as reforestation does (Geissen et al., 2007).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Cynodon plectostachyus is a moderately nutritive grass, containing about 10% protein in the DM. Grass fed during the dry season can contain less than 6% protein while the CP of young grass can exceed 15% of the DM, and more than 18% when N fertilizer has been applied (Cecato et al., 2001).

Potential constraints 


Cynodon plectostachyus is a cyanogenic species that can produce high levels of hydrogen cyanide when overstressed by defoliation, drought and heavy grazing/trampling. In Kenya, the death of several cattle of the same herd was attributed to their consumption of Cynodon plectostachyus defoliated by larvae of the Lepidoptera Spodoptera exempta (Georgiadis et al., 1988). Enlarged thyroids and stillborn lambs have been reported on sheep grazing on giant star grass, which could be the consequence of the presence of cyanide or of low iodine content in the grass (Eisler, 2007).


Cynodon plectostachyus is a valued pasture in the tropics and it is part of cattle production systems in several dry tropical areas, particularly in Eastern Africa and in Central and South America. In the drylands of South-East Kenya, in a survey of cattle farmers, Cynodon plectostachyus was frequently the top-ranked pasture, above Eragrostis superba, Cenchrus ciliaris and Megathyrsus maximus (Ndathi et al., 2012).


Cynodon plectostachyus is considered to be palatable (Bogdan, 1977; Asamoah et al., 1985), though less so than Guinea grass (Megathyrus maximus) and pangola grass (Digitaria eriantha) (Asamoah et al., 1985).

Nutritional value

Cynodon plectostachyus may have a similar, or lower, nutritional value than other grasses available at the same period in the same area. In Kenya, the in vitro DM digestibility (35%) of Cynodon plectostachyus hay was lower than that of Eragrostis superba (45%) and similar to that of Cenchrus ciliaris and Megathyrsus maximus (37 and 34% respectively) (Ndathi et al., 2012). In Puerto Rico, its in vivo DM digestibility (50%) was lower than that of Cynodon dactylon, Cynodon nlemfuensis, Digitaria eriantha and Megathyrsus maximus (54-55%) (Randel et al., 1989). In Brazil, the in vitro DM digestibility of Cynodon plectostachyus grass (63%) was found to be similar to that of Tifton 85 (a cultivar of Cynodon dactylon) and Cynodon nlemfuensis (63%), and slightly lower than that of Cynodon cultivars Coastcross and Tifton 44 (65%) (Cecato et al., 2001). In the Philippines, giant star grass cut every 20 days had a higher in vivo DM digestibility in sheep (60%) than when cut every 30 or 40 days (Intong, 1998). In Cuba, the in vivo OM digestibility in sheep of Cynodon plectostachyus silage was identical to that of Megathyrsus maximus silage (59%), and lower than that of King grass (Pennisetum purpureum × Pennisetum glaucum) silage (63%) (Esperance et al., 1985).


Giant star grass does not have a high nutritive value, particularly during the dry season, and numerous trials have tried to determine the needs and methods for supplementing cattle and sheep grazing giant star grass. In Mexico (Colima), a traditional dual purpose cattle production system is based on maize stubble and giant star grass: this diet, though sufficient in energy, was found to be deficient in protein and dry matter, and required supplementation with other ingredients (Macedo et al., 2008). In silvopastoral systems, livestock grazing Cynodon plectostachyus had access to forage legumes such as Leucaena leucocephala or Prosopis juliflora (Nahed-Toral et al., 2010; Goldfarb et al., 1995; Mahecha et al., 2000). Supplementation of giant star grass with multinutrient blocks, and protein sources such as oil meals, animal by-products, urea and protein banks (forage legumes) is summarized in the table below.

Country Breed Supplementation Results Reference
Mexico Steers (360 kg) Multinutrient blocks No effect on liveweight gain but a better response could be expected either during the dry season or by using growing steers. Hernandez-Mendo et al., 2008
Mexico Zebu/Swiss calves (200 kg) 30% multinutrient blocks enriched with yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae Higher growth rate (795 g/d vs. 678 g/d) and DM intake than unsupplemented animals. Cabrera Nuñez et al., 2005
Mexico Bos taurus x Bos indicus heifers
(242 kg)
Urea-treated sugarcane (3% of BW) + a protein supplement (blood meal, poultry litter, rice polishing and cane molasses) Higher daily gain than star grass alone (528 vs. 320 g/d). Aranda et al., 2001
Brazil Nelore steers
(390 kg)
0.4 kg/d of a protein+mineral supplement Higher daily gain than with mineral supplementation alone
(150 g/d vs. 60 g/d).
Moreira et al., 2004b
Mexico Bos taurus x Bos indicus steers
(211 kg)
2 kg/d (DM) of supplement (0, 50 or 100% blood meal, copra meal, or sobyean meal + 100, 50 or 0% urea) Highest daily gain with 100% blood meal or copra meal (1210 g/d), lowest average daily gain (970 g/d) with 100% urea. Blood meal and coconut meal provided bypass protein in the supplement. The positive response to blood meal has been associated with the lysine supply in the bypass protein (Goedeken et al., 1990). Ramos et al., 1998
Venezuela Brahman x Holstein dry cows (453 kg) Multinutrient blocks containing either fish meal or whole cotton seeds No effect on DM intake and DM utilization in cows fed star grass hay but the effects were significant on cows fed the lower quality Trachypogon hay. The effect of the multinutrient block is more notable when fed to animal consuming fibrous feed of low digestibility and protein content. Mata et al., 1992
Mexico Brahman × Brown Swiss steers
(353 kg)
Sugarcane silage with maize grain (10%), urea (1.5%) and mineral premix (0.5%) Increased DM intake, total gain and average daily gain,
with no effect on feed conversion and digestible DM.
Gomez-Vasquez et al., 2011
Mexico Indobrasil and Brahman x Swiss American steers (289-349 kg) 30 or 60 min daily access to kudzu (Pueraria phaseoloides) Daily liveweight gain increased with 60 min access to kudzu, compared to star grass alone (836 vs. 575 g/d). However, legumes are not very effective as sources of bypass protein to improve rate of growth due to their extensive degradation in the rumen (Poppi et al., 1995). Pérez et al., 2001

In Mexico, a comparison between steers grazing Cynodon plectostachyus and steers fed a maize-soybean meal concentrate showed significant differences in the fatty acid composition of the meat, which was richer in stearic acid (C18:0) for grazing steers (Montero-Lagunes et al., 2011).

Dairy cattle

Literature reporting the use of Cynodon plectostachyus pastures for dairy production is scarce. In Cuba, Cynodon plectostachyus silage offered to Holstein x Zebu cows resulted in daily milk yields and DM intakes higher than those for king grass (Pennisetum purpureum x P. americanum) silage and lower than those for Guinea grass (Megathyrsus maximus) silage (milk yield 4.6 vs. 4.0 and 5.6 kg/d, respectively; DM intake 9.2 vs. 9.0 and 10.3 kg/d, respectively) (Esperance et al., 1985). In semi-arid areas of central Tanzania, combining Cenchrus ciliaris and Cynodon plectostachyus (50:50) provided good quality hay for milk production in dual purpose Mpwapwa cows and resulted in higher milk yield (5.3 kg/d) than other combinations of Cenchrus ciliaris, Megathyrsus maximus, Cynodon plectostachyus and Rottboellia exaltata (Bwire et al., 2003).


Information about the use of giant star grass in rabbit nutrition is limited. In one study in Mauritius young giant star grass was safely used ad libitum to feed growing rabbits receiving a limited quantity of a concentrate. Digestibility of this forage, by rabbits, when harvested very young was high, particularly for crude protein and energy. Nevertheless, growth rate was significantly lower than for the control (complete rabbit pellets ad libitum), and DM intake was reduced by 35%. This indicated that giant star grass required supplementation with a specific concentrate to ensure adequate performance. It should be noted that the tested forage contained more than 20% DM protein which is atypical, as Cynodon plectostachyus is usually more mature, with a lower CP content, when fed to livestock (Ramchurn et al., 2000).

Nutritional tables

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 30.6 5.8 20.2 43.5 281  
Crude protein % DM 9.9 3.0 5.4 18.4 298  
Crude fibre % DM 37.0 2.8 30.2 41.9 288  
NDF % DM 72.1 9.9 48.7 81.0 17 *
ADF % DM 43.1 6.7 23.6 46.8 17 *
Lignin % DM 6.0 2.3 1.8 8.2 10 *
Ether extract % DM 1.6 0.4 1.0 2.6 286  
Ash % DM 7.3 1.3 4.2 10.4 240  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.6         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 4.1 1.8 2.1 11.1 285  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 2.4 0.6 1.2 3.9 285  
Potassium g/kg DM 17.8 6.2 6.4 31.9 255  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.5 0.9 0.0 3.1 11  
Magnesium g/kg DM 2.1 0.7 1.2 4.5 247  
Manganese mg/kg DM 60 15 41 80 5  
Zinc mg/kg DM 38 8 33 50 4  
Copper mg/kg DM 8 2 6 10 5  
Iron mg/kg DM 198 67 110 267 4  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 60.6 7.4 47.0 71.4 11 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 57.9         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.8         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.6         *
ME ruminants (gas production) MJ/kg DM 8.7 0.6 8.1 9.3 3  
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 56.7 21.3 27.0 80.1 8  

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


Aranda et al., 2001; Bwire et al., 2003; Cecato et al., 2001; CIRAD, 1991; Evitayani et al., 2004; Evitayani et al., 2004; French, 1943; Georgiadis et al., 1988; Grimaud et al., 2006; Holm, 1971; Mtui et al., 2006; Olubajo et al., 1974; Ramchurn et al., 2000; Ramos et al., 1998; Tuah et al., 1974; Warly et al., 2006

Last updated on 22/11/2013 11:14:28

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Dry matter % as fed 88.5 2.2 85.6 92.0 13  
Crude protein % DM 8.1 2.1 5.2 12.3 19  
Crude fibre % DM 34.7 2.7 31.4 39.7 15  
NDF % DM 69.9   69.9 86.7 2 *
ADF % DM 40.5 1.8 40.5 47.4 3 *
Lignin % DM 5.5         *
Ether extract % DM 1.9 0.8 0.9 3.6 15  
Ash % DM 8.2 2.4 0.1 10.2 16  
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 18.3         *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
Calcium g/kg DM 4.1 0.7 2.9 5.0 9  
Phosphorus g/kg DM 3.5 0.8 1.3 4.0 9  
Potassium g/kg DM 10.4 1.5 7.9 12.0 6  
Sodium g/kg DM 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.4 8  
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb  
OM digestibility, ruminants % 59.2 5.7 44.5 60.3 10 *
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 55.7         *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 10.2         *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 8.2         *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 45.1 13.1 23.0 58.5 10  

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


Calles et al., 1982; French, 1938; French, 1943; Holm, 1971; Mata et al., 1992; Ndathi et al., 2012; Randel et al., 1989

Last updated on 22/11/2013 11:16:47

Datasheet citation 

Heuzé V., Tran G., Salgado P., Lebas F., 2015. Giant star grass (Cynodon plectostachyus). Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/468 Last updated on June 30, 2015, 12:20

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)
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