Back to Biodiversity Explorer main pageGo to Iziko Museums of Cape Town home pageAbout Biodiversity Explorer - history, goals, etc.Send us your questions about southern African biodiversityPeople who have contributed content and images.Search Biodiversity Explorer

Genus: Setaria

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Poales > Family: Poaceae

There are about 110 species worldwide (tropics and subtropics) of which 22 are native to southern Africa and two are naturalised. There is an additional species that is cultivated in the region. Includes Setaria italica (Foxtail millet), which was domesticated in East Asia over 7000 years ago and is now cultivated to a minor extent, mainly for producing bird seed.

Species native to southern Africa

List from Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI), Flora of Zimbabwe and Flora of Mozambique.

Setaria appendiculata


Setaria chevalieri


Setaria finita


Setaria holstii


Setaria homonyma

Setaria incrassata

Setaria laeta


Setaria lindenbergiana (Mountain bristle grass)


Setaria longiseta

Recorded from Zimbabwe.


Setaria megaphylla

Setaria nigrirostris


Setaria obscura


Setaria orthosticha

Recorded from Zimbabwe.


Setaria petiolata

Recorded from Zimbabwe.


Setaria plicatilis


Setaria pseudaristata


Setaria pumila

Setaria rigida


Setaria sagittifolia


Setaria sphacelata (Common bristle grass)

In KwaZulu-Natal, seeds from this wild grass are harvested in times of famine. They are boiled before grinding, evidently to eliminate toxic substances.

Setaria verticillata (Bur-bristle grass)

The Topnaar people in Namibia harvest the wild seeds of Setaria verticillata, and grind them up for making porridge and the leaves are used by them for weaving hats. In South Africa the seeds are used to produce a malt for beer making.

Setaria woodii


Species naturalised in southern Africa

List from Fish (2003).

Setaria geniculata (Knotroot bristlegrass, Knotroot foxtail, Yellow bristlegrass)

[=Setaria parviflora]

Native to the Americas.


Setaria italica (Foxtail millet)

Domesticated from the wild Setaria viridis in East Asia more than 7000 years ago, during the Neolithic period. Foxtail millet is nowadays a minor crop in SE Europe, parts of Asia (especially India, China and Japan) and North Africa. In southern Africa it is grown to a minor extent for human consumption, and on the Springbok Flats it is grown commercially for producing bird seed. Different cultivars can have different coloured seeds: white, yellow and red. In southern Africa it has also become naturalised.


Other species, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Gray (2002).

Setaria pallide-fusca (Garden bristle grass)



  • Fish, L. 2003. Poaceae. In Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds), Plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist. Strelitzia 14: 1152-1194. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria. 


Contact us if you can contribute information or images to improve this page.

Biodiversity Explorer home   Iziko home   Search