Desert grass (Stipagrostis plumosa)

Desert grass in habitat
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Desert grass fact file

Desert grass description

GenusStipagrostis (1)

Growing in dense tufts, the desert grass (Stipagrostis plumosa) has many erect culms (the hollow, jointed stem of a grass or sedge), encased in woolly sheaths. The ligules between the leaf blade and the sheath have a fringe of hairs, and the leaf blades are curled, coming to sharp point at the tip (2) (3). The inflorescence of the desert grass is a specialised, leafless branch system, borne along the main stem. The flowers are known as ‘spikelets’ and are greatly reduced, surrounded by two scale-like bracts (4).

Height: up to 40 cm (2)

Desert grass biology

The desert grass generally flowers between February and July (7). The spikelets have both male and female reproductive structures, and the florets (the small, reduced flowers) open for just a few hours when mature to allow wind pollination (4). The desert grass has specialised roots enclosed in a ‘rhizosheath’, where the root hairs and sand grains form a casing around the roots which is held together by a sticky, glue-like mucilage. The rhizosheath structure allows the desert grass to absorb water much more efficiently from the surrounding environment, and also promotes the growth of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which produce nitrogen compounds that can be used by the plant (9). The desert grass plays an important ecological role in arid environments by stabilising the sandy substrates through the accumulation of drifting sand around the tussocks (6) (9).


Desert grass range

The desert grass is found in north and west Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East and in parts of northwest India and the Mediterranean region (2) (3) (5).


Desert grass habitat

Primarily inhabiting arid or semi-arid environments, the desert grass is usually found growing in sand dunes, sandy soils and in slightly saline soil types (5) (6) (7) (8).


Desert grass status

The desert grass has yet to be classified by the IUCN.


Desert grass threats

There are no known threats to the desert grass; however, throughout the United Arab Emirates large plots of land have been developed to cater for the rapidly expanding human population, with significant negative impacts on much of the native vegetation (9).


Desert grass conservation

There are no known conservation measures in place for the desert grass.

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Find out more

To find out more about conservation in the Emirates region, see:

To find out more about grasses and many other plants, see:



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Modified leaf at the base of a flower.
The reproductive shoot of a plant, which bears a group or cluster of flowers.
In grasses and sedges, an outgrowth from the inner junction of a grass leaf sheath and blade, often membranous, sometimes a fringe of hairs. In other plants, may refer to any strap-like appendage.
The transfer of pollen grains from the stamen (male part of a flower) to the stigma (female part of a flower) of a flowering plant. This usually leads to fertilisation, the development of seeds and, eventually, a new plant.


  1. UNEP-WCMC (November, 2010)
  2. eFloras (November, 2010)
  3. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew: Grass Base (November, 2010)
  4. Ghasemkhani, M., Akhani, H., Sahebi, J. and Scholz, H. (2008) The genera Aristida and Stipagrostis (Poaceae) in Iran. Willdenowia, 38: 135-148.
  5. El-Bana, M.I. and Al-Mathnani, A-S. (2009) Vegetation-soil relationships in the Wadi Al-Hayat Area of the Libyan Sahara. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 3(2): 740-747.
  6. Moradi, S., Ali, A., Hossein, B. and Mahdi, A. (2004) Autecology of Stipagrostis plumosa in Range Land Ecosystems of Qom Province. Qom Agricultural and Natural Resources Research Center Qom, Iran.
  7. Zahran, M.A. and Willis, A.J. (2009) The Vegetation of Egypt. Springer Science and Business Media, Berlin.
  8. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  9. Heywood, V.W. (1978) Flowering Plants of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Image credit

Desert grass in habitat  
Desert grass in habitat

© Petr Pokorný

Petr Pokorný


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This species is featured in Jewels of the UAE, which showcases biodiversity found in the United Arab Emirates in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.

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