Charles Sturt University
Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation

It's not 'hairy' but Hillman's panic grass

Research from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is debunking the widely held belief that the wind-swept grass on fence lines in the Riverina is ‘hairy panic’.

PhD student Mr Yuchi ChenCharles Sturt University (CSU) PhD candidate Mr Yuchi Chen has examined panic grass samples from more than 80 locations in a 200 kilometre radius of Wagga Wagga.

“Many panic grasses are categorised as noxious weeds and cause crop and pasture losses due to competition, as well as photosensitisation in grazing livestock,” Mr Chen said.

“They produce a panicle inflorescence, or flower heads, which detach at maturity and at this time of the year you often see them tumbling in the wind, accumulating on roadsides, along fence lines and in yards.

“It was thought that the native hairy panic (P. effusum), and the introduced panic weed witchgrass (P. capillare) were the most common species in southern NSW.

“But our survey found the vast majority, about 90 per cent of samples, were identified as Hillman’s panic grass (P. hillmanii). Hairy panic and witchgrass accounted for only five per cent and one per cent of samples respectively.”

Hillman’s panic grass is a noxious weed introduced from the southern United States to South Australia and Victoria in the 1900s.

Research supervisor, CSU Professor Leslie Weston, said until recently it was rarely encountered in NSW.

“The discovery that Hillman’s panic grass is now the dominant Panicum species in southern NSW is significant as we have not yet studied the ecology of this species in Australia, but find that it is rapidly spreading across Victoria and NSW, due to wind-blown movement of its panicles and its ability to easily establish in fields under conservation tillage,” Professor Weston said.

“It has recently been reported to cause photosensitisation in sheep, which can result in severe skin irritation, fleece loss, liver damage and in some cases death.

“Our research aims to profile the potential toxicity of Hillman’s panic grass, and other related Panicum speciesto help producers improve their management of outbreaks of photosensitisation in livestock. Knowing which toxic grass species are present is a key part of this strategy.”

Further research is investigating using molecular markers and DNA sequencing to develop a more accurate method for identifying common panic grasses, with further surveys planned for coming months.

The Graham Centre research team includes Professor Leslie Weston, Associate Professor Jane Quinn, Dr Panayiotis Loukopoulos, Mr Chen and Dr Xiaocheng Zhu.


Media Note: Professor Leslie Weston and Mr Yuchi Chen are based at CSU in Wagga Wagga. To arrange interviews contact Graham Centre communications officer Ms Emily Malone on 0439 552 385 or

The Graham Centre is a research alliance between Charles Sturt University (CSU) and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI)