Sorghum bicolor

Scientific Name Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench
Common Names English: Sorghum, shattercane; German: Mohrenhirse; French: Gros mil, sorgho; Spanish: Maiz milo, mijo, sorgo; Portuguese: Sorgo
Description Sorghum is a vigorous usually annual grass that varies between 0.5 - 5.0 m (1.54 - 16.4 ft) in height. It originates from Africa. The plant produces one or several tillers, which emerge initially from the base and later from stem nodes. The root system consists of fibrous adventitious roots that emerge from the lowest nodes of the stem, below and immediately above ground level. Roots are normally concentrated in the top 0.9 m (2.95 ft) of soil but may extend to twice that depth and can extend to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) in lateral spread.


Characteristic Features

Big, thick stems, and whitish subglobose fruits.

Young Plant

Seedlings resemble those of johnsongrass and are indistinguishable from grain sorghum seedlings. Attached seeds resemble those of johnsongrass, but are mostly 2.5-4 mm (0.098 - 0.157 inch) wide.


Solid, usually erect. The center of the stem can be dry or juicy, insipid or sweet to taste. It also can become pithy with spaces.


Leaves vary in number from 7 - 24, depending on the cultivar. They are borne alternately in two ranks. Leaf sheaths vary in length between 15 - 35 cm (5.9 - 13.7 inch) and encircle the stem with their margins overlapping. The leaf sheath often has a waxy bloom. Leaves are from 30 - 135 cm (11.81 - 53.14 inch) long and 1.5 - 13 cm (0.59 - 5.12 inch) wide, with a flat or wavy margin. Midribs are white or yellow in dry pithy cultivars or green in juicy cultivars.

Propagation Organs


The flower is a panicle, usually erect, but sometimes recurved to form a goose neck. The panicle has a central rachis, with short or long primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary branches, which bear groups of spikelets. The length and closeness of the panicle branches determine panicle shape, which varies from densely packed conical or oval to spreading and lax.

Flowering Period



Grain is usually partially covered by glumes.


Rounded and bluntly pointed, from 4 - 8 mm (0.16 - 0.31 inch) in diameter and varying in size, shape and color with cultivar.

Viability of Seeds

Up to 12 years.


By seeds. Seeds usually mature and disperse earlier than those of the crop grain sorghum. Plants produce up to 2,000 seeds per inflorescence. The main germination period is from mid-spring through early summer.



S. bicolor is adapted to a wider range of ecological conditions. It is mostly a plant of hot, dry regions. It still survives in cool weather as well as waterlogged habitat.


S. bicolor tolerates a wide range of soil types. It is well suited to heavy Vertisols found commonly in the tropics, where its tolerance to waterlogging is often required, but is equally suited to light sandy soils. It tolerates a wide range of soil pH from 5.0 - 8.5 and is more tolerant to salinity than corn. It is adapted to poor soils and can produce seeds/grain on soils where many other crops would fail.

Agricultural Importance

Sorghum bicolor is the primary Sorghum species grown for grain for human consumption and for animal feed. Sorghum bicolor includes all cultivated sorghums as well as a group of semi wild plants often regarded as weeds. Commercial sorghum pollinated by shattercane produces seed that is indistinguishable from commercial sorghum seed. Contaminated commercial seed produces weedy and off-type Sorghum plants that are distinguishable only when the crop reached the flowering stage. In the corn belt of the United States of America, shattercane is a very serious and difficult to control weed in corn and forage sorghum. It can hybridize with all sorghums. In North America, shattercane provides excellent winter and loafing cover for pheasants and quail. Seeds are often eaten by birds.


Useful non-chemical contribution to Integrated Weed Management

Equipment cleaning after use in infested fields and confining livestock that has had access to mature sorghums for about 1 week can prevent introduction of weedy sorghum seeds into uninfested fields. Deep plowing reduces seed germination by burying seed, but it prolongs seed survival. Crop rotation, especially to competitive crops such as alfalfa, small grains, or perennial grasses can help control infestations by suppression.

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