Scientific name(s)
Plant description
Pasture type and use
Where it grows
Animal production
Further information
Author and date
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Scientific name(s)

Setaria sphacelata



Plant description

Plant: Tufted perennial grass growing 1 - 2m tall, and up to about 30cm diameter at the base.

Stems: Smooth and shiny, sometimes slightly waxy.

Leaves: Young shoots are flattened at the base, and the leaves folded (not rolled).  Leaves are generally hairless, soft to the touch and bluish grey-green in colour, often reddish around the stem; leaf blades to 50 cm long and over 1 cm wide.

Seedhead: Seeds are borne on a bristly, cylindrical "spike" 6 - 25cm long, and about 1cm across, varying in colour from golden to dark brown.

Seeds: Very small, averaging about 1.5 million/kg

Pasture type and use

Good for intensively grazed permanent pastures in the humid subtropics, and upland and southern tropics, as well as for hay production.

Where it grows


Setaria is mostly sown in areas receiving an average annual rainfall of over 1,000 mm, and is well-suited to irrigation.


It grows well on most soils providing moisture and fertility are adequate. It is not well adapted to alkaline, very acid, or saline soils.


See "Cultivars"


Companion species

Grasses: normally not sown with other grasses


Setaria competes strongly with companion species for plant nutrients in less fertile soils, and may suppress them in the absence of added fertiliser.

Sowing/planting rates as single species

2 - 4 kg/ha for nitrogen-fertilised grass

Sowing/planting rates in mixtures

1 - 2 kg/ha, the lower rate for creeping legumes.

Sowing time

It can be sown successfully from spring to early autumn. As a general rule, it is best to choose a suitable sowing time for any associated legume.


Not applicable


Because it grows best in at least moderately fertile soils, it is advisable to use an establishment application of say 200 - 300 kg/ha of superphosphate and 50 kg/ha of muriate of potash on less fertile soils.  A post-emergence application of 100 kg/ha of urea (= 46 kg/ha N) is beneficial in pure stands.


Maintenance fertliser

Annual dressings of up to 200 kg/ha of superphosphate and 100 kg/ha of muriate of potash (depending on soil fertility), are required to maintain high production levels. In pure stands, where high levels of fertiliser nitrogen are used (e.g. up to 300 kg/ha of nitrogen in three split applications), occasional dressings of lime may also be necessary to overcome increasing soil acidity.


Although it is fairly tolerant of mowing or grazing, it will give way to creeping grasses such as blue couch or mat grass if grazed heavily over a prolonged period. Setaria decline is more rapid if nitrogen fertility is low.

Seed production

Seed is produced over much of the growing season, with good commercial yields usually of the order of 100 kg/ha. Seed crops are fertilised with 100 - 150 kg/ha of N/ after a cleaning cut ha, and are usually direct headed when 10 - 15 per cent of the seed has shattered.

Ability to spread

Setaria spreads effectively by seed, and readily colonises disturbed areas such as roadsides.

Weed potential

Although listed as a weed in some regions, it rarely invades undisturbed areas.

Major pests

Severe attack by armyworm and pasture webworm can destroy much of the leaf, particularly young leaf. Buffel grass seed caterpillar can cause considerable damage to seed crops from late January onwards.

Major diseases

Pyricularia leaf spot is prevalent under hot humid conditions and can retard the growth of ungrazed stands.

Herbicide susceptibility

Setaria is susceptible to glyphosate.

Animal production

Feeding value

Protein content of the grass depends on nitrogen fertility of the soil, and age of regrowth of the stand (best if less than 4 weeks' regrowth). Young leafy regrowth (3 weeks) can have digestible dry matter levels of 70%, but after 6 - 8 weeks, digestibility levels drop to 50 - 55%. Sodium levels are often low requiring supplementation in the diet. See "livestock disorders/toxicity"


Setaria is extremely palatable when young, but becomes stemmy and unacceptable with onset of seeding.

Production potential



Livestock disorders/toxicity

Setaria develops high levels of oxalate in the leaf, especially in young, well-fertilised, vigorous growth. This causes hyperparathyroidism ('big head' disease) in horses and donkeys, and can cause nephrosis (kidney disease) in ruminants. It can also lead to hypocalcaemia (milk fever) and/or hypomagnesemia (grass tetany) in ruminants, particularly in high-producing dairy cows.  This is less of a problem in animals that graze setaria regularly. 'Kazungula' and 'Splenda' develop the highest oxalate levels, followed by, 'Narok' and 'Solander', with 'Nandi' the lowest.


Cultivar Seed source/Information
Kazungula Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Nandi Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Narok Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Solander Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars
Splenda Australian Herbage Plant Cultivars

Further information

Tropical Forages database (SoFT) - Setaria
NSW Deprtment of Primary Industries - Setaria Agnote DPI-293


Mr Bede Clarke, NSW DPI, Casino

Author and date

Bruce G. Cook

August 2007