Sporobolus subtilis Kunth

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Sporobolus subtilis

Picture: Bart Wursten
Haka Game Park, Cleveland Dam, Harare

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Synonyms: Sporobolus barbigerus Franch.
Vilfa subtilis (Kunth) Trin.
Common names:
Tufted perennial grass, arising from a short scaly rhizome; up to 80 cm, erect, unbranched; basal leaf sheaths chartaceous, glabrous, terete, persistent or eventually disintegrating into a cushion of fibres; leaf laminas 3–20 cm long, involute-filiform, glabrous or thinly pilose on the surface, cartilaginous on the margins. Inflorescence a broad but very fine and diffuse branched panicle, 5–18 cm long, broadly ovate; primary branches not in whorls, usually solitary or paired, sometimes the lowermost clustered but not truly whorled, subdichotomously branched, the branchlets and pedicels capillary, smooth or scaberulous, eglandular, widely diverging, with tufts of long silvery hairs in the axils of the inflorescence branches. Spikelet with an extension to the rhachilla. Spikelets (1.1)1.3–3.1(4) mm long, dark green; glumes subequal, 1/2–4/5 the length of the spikelet, lanceolate to narrowly ovate, the inferior 0- to 1-nerved, the superior 1-nerved, glabrous, acute or acuminate at the apex; lemma as long as the spikelet, distinctly 3-nerved, ovate, obtuse to subacute at the apex; palea similar to the lemma but 2-nerved; rhachilla produced, 1/4 as long to as long as the lemma, rarely absent, glabrous, sunk between the close-set keels of the palea; anthers 3, 0.7–1.2(1.9) mm long. Grain 0.8–1 mm long, oblong to cylindrical, with rounded top and oblique base, ± square in section.
Type location:
Derivation of specific name: subtilis: fine, delicate (referring to the inflorescence)
Habitat: Usually in Kalahari Sand floodplain and dambo grasslands, less often in montane and sandveld grasslands, also in Kalahari Sand woodlands and on coastal dunes away from the littoral zone
Altitude range: Up to 1800 m
Flowering time:Dec - Jan
Worldwide distribution: From West Africa to the DRC and Tanzania and southwards to South Africa; also Madagascar.
Zambian distribution (Flora Zambesiaca): B,N,W,C
Zambian distribution (Provinces): Nw,N,Lk,W
Growth form(s):
Endemic status:
Red data list status:
Insects associated with this species:
Spot characters: Display spot characters for this species

Burrows, J.E. & Willis, C.K. (eds) (2005). Plants of the Nyika Plateau Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 31 SABONET, Pretoria Page 365. (Includes a picture).

Chapano, C. & Mamuto, M. (2003). Plants of the Chimanimani District National Herbarium and Botanic Garden, Zimbabwe Page 52.

Cope, T.A. (1999). Poaceae Flora Zambesiaca 10(2) Pages 196 - 198. (Includes a picture).

Mapaura, A. & Timberlake, J. (eds) (2004). A checklist of Zimbabwean vascular plants Southern African Botanical Diversity Network Report No. 33 Sabonet, Pretoria and Harare Page 110.

Wursten, B., Timberlake, J. & Darbyshire, I. (2017). The Chimanimani Mountains: an updated checklist. Kirkia 19(1) Page 86.

Other sources of information about Sporobolus subtilis:

Our websites:

Flora of Caprivi: Sporobolus subtilis
Flora of Malawi: Sporobolus subtilis
Flora of Mozambique: Sporobolus subtilis
Flora of Zimbabwe: Sporobolus subtilis

External websites:

African Plants: A Photo Guide (Senckenberg): Sporobolus subtilis
African Plant Database: Sporobolus subtilis
BHL (Biodiversity Heritage Library): Sporobolus subtilis
EOL (Encyclopedia of Life): Sporobolus subtilis
GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility): Sporobolus subtilis
Google: Web - Images - Scholar
iNaturalist: Sporobolus subtilis
IPNI (International Plant Names Index): Sporobolus subtilis
JSTOR Plant Science: Sporobolus subtilis
Mansfeld World Database of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops: Sporobolus subtilis
Plants of the World Online: Sporobolus subtilis
Tropicos: Sporobolus subtilis
Wikipedia: Sporobolus subtilis

Copyright: Mike Bingham, Annette Willemen, Bart Wursten, Petra Ballings and Mark Hyde, 2011-24

Bingham, M.G., Willemen, A., Wursten, B.T., Ballings, P. and Hyde, M.A. (2024). Flora of Zambia: Species information: Sporobolus subtilis.
https://www.zambiaflora.com/speciesdata/species.php?species_id=105620, retrieved 24 May 2024

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