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Cogon grass

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Cogon grass

Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron,'
in a Boston, Massachusetts garden
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Imperata
Species: I. cylindrica
Binomial name
Imperata cylindrica
(L.) P. Beauv.

See text

Imperata cylindrica, commonly known as blady grass, cogon grass /kˈɡn/, kunai grass /ˈkn/, or Japanese bloodgrass, is a species of grass in the genus Imperata. It is placed in the subfamily Panicoideae, supertribe Andropogonodae, tribe Andropogoneae.

It is a perennial rhizomatous grass native to east and southeast Asia, India, Micronesia, Melanesia, Australia, and eastern and southern Africa. It grows from 0.6–3 m (2–10 feet) tall. The leaves are about 2 cm wide near the base of the plant and narrow to a sharp point at the top; the margins are finely toothed and are embedded with sharp silica crystals. The main vein is a lighter colour than the rest of the leaf and tends to be nearer to one side of the leaf. The upper surface is hairy near the base of the plant while the underside is usually hairless. Roots are up to 1.2 meters deep, but 0.4 m is typical in sandy soil.

Common locations

Imperata cylindrica is found in areas where the soil has been disturbed, such as roadsides, building sites, timber harvesting areas, and borrow pits. It is able to invade both moist and dry upland pine forests. Once established it often forms dense monocultures.[1]

Cultivation and uses

It is used for thatching the roofs of traditional homes throughout south-east Asia.

It is planted extensively for ground cover and soil stabilization near beach areas and other areas subject to erosion. Other uses include paper-making, thatching and weaving into mats and bags. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine.[2]

A number of cultivars have been selected for garden use as ornamental plants, including the red-leaved 'Red Baron', also known as Japanese blood grass.

Young inflorescences and shoots may be eaten cooked, and the roots contain starch and sugars and are therefore easy to chew.[3][4]

Weed problems

The plant has become naturalized in the Americas, Northern Asia, Europe and Africa in addition to many islands and is listed as an invasive weed in some areas. In the U.S. it survives best in the Southeast (and, according to a 2003 survey, has overtaken more acreage in that region than the notorious kudzu),[5] but has been reported to exist as far north as West Virginia and Oregon. Worldwide it has been observed from 45°N to 45°S. It grows on wet lands, dry lands, areas of high salinity, organic soils, clay soils and sandy soils of pH from 4.0 to 7.5. It prefers full sun but will tolerate some shade.

It spreads both through small seeds, which are easily carried by the wind, and rhizomes which can be transported by tilling equipment and in soil transport.

In the Southeastern United States, state governments have various eradication efforts in place, and deliberate propagation is prohibited by some authorities.[6] Control is typically by the use of herbicides. Burnoff is seldom successful since the grass burns at a high temperature causing heat damage to trees which would ordinarily be undamaged by a controlled burn and recovers from a burn quickly.

The legume vine Mucuna pruriens is used in the countries of Benin and Vietnam as a biological control for Imperata cylindrica.[7]


Anecdotal and empirical evidence suggests that types of this grass are quite flammable even when apparently green,[8] particularly in Southeast Asian climates. It is not uncommon to see hillsides of cogon grass on fire.[9][10]

A common expression in the Philippines is ningas cogon ('cogon brush fire'). It is a figure of speech for procrastination, specifically people who show a fervent interest in a new project but lose interest quickly, in reference to the propensity of cogon grass to catch fire and burn out quickly.[11]


The plant contains the triterpenoids arundoin, cylindrin and fernenol.[12]


Imperata cylindrica was first described by Linnaeus in 1759 under the basionym Lagurus cylindricus.[13] They were renamed by the French entomologist and botanist Palisot de Beauvois to the current accepted name of Imperata cylindrica.

Synonyms include:

  • Calamagrostis lagurus (L.) Koeler
  • Imperata allang Jungh.
  • Imperata arundinacea Cirillo
  • Imperata koenigii (Retz.) P.Beauv.
  • Imperata pedicellata Steud.
  • Imperata sieberi Opiz
  • Imperata thunbergii P. Beauv.
  • Lagurus cylindricus L.
  • Saccharum cylindricum (L.) Lam.
  • Saccharum europeaum Pers.
  • Saccharum koenigii Retz.
  • Saccharum laguroides Pourr.
  • Saccharum sisca Cav.
  • Saccharum thunbergii Retz.[14]


From Spanish cogón, from the Tagalog and Visayan kugon.[15]

Local names

Local English names:

Names in other languages:


External links

  • US National Park Service - Description of Cogon Grass and control measures
  • FAO information on Cogon
  • Edible and medicinal uses, cultivation, etc.
  • Description
  • PLANTS Profile for Imperata cylindrica (cogongrass) | USDA PLANTS profile
  • Murniati (2002) From Imperata cylindrica Grasslands to productive Agroforestry. PhD thesis Wageningen UR.
  • West African plants - A Photo Guide.
  • United States National Agricultural Library. Lists general information and resources for Cogongrass.
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