1. Family: Poaceae Barnhart
    1. Genus: Sorghum Moench
      1. Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench

        Sorghum is considered the 'camel of the crops', a true testament to its hardiness and ability to grow in dry, nutrient-poor soils and withstand prolonged droughts. It is especially adapted to grow in dry areas but, being so rich in diversity, it also grows well in temperate and high altitude environments. Sorghum is a staple food for more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries. Preserving the genetic diversity of this crop is integral to safeguarding the food security of the people who depend on it.

    [GB]
    Habit
    Annual. Culms erect; robust; 100-600 cm long; 50-300 mm diam. Culm-nodes glabrous. Leaves cauline. Ligule an eciliate membrane; 1-3 mm long. Leaf-blade base broadly rounded. Leaf-blades 30-100 cm long; 5-10 mm wide.
    Inflorescences
    Inflorescence a panicle with branches tipped by a raceme. Peduncle straight, or deflexed. Panicle open, or contracted; lanceolate, or ovate, or globose; equilateral, or nodding; 4-50 cm long; 2-20 cm wide. Primary panicle branches appressed, or spreading; not whorled; moderately divided. Panicle branches pubescent, or villous. Racemes bearing few fertile spikelets; 1-6 fertile spikelets on each. Rhachis tough; ciliate on margins. Rhachis internodes filiform, or linear; 0.5-5 mm long. Rhachis internode tip transverse. Spikelets in pairs. Fertile spikelets sessile; 1 in the cluster. Companion sterile spikelets pedicelled; 1 in the cluster. Pedicels filiform; ciliate.
    Sterile
    Companion sterile spikelets well-developed; male; lanceolate; as long as fertile; separately deciduous. Companion sterile spikelet glumes herbaceous; muticous. Companion sterile spikelet lemmas enclosed by glumes.
    Spikelets
    Spikelets comprising 1 basal sterile florets; 1 fertile florets; without rhachilla extension. Spikelets oblong, or ovate, or obovate, or orbicular; dorsally compressed; 3-10 mm long; persistent on plant. Spikelet callus glabrous, or pilose; base obtuse. Companion sterile spikelets well-developed; male; lanceolate; as long as fertile; separately deciduous. Companion sterile spikelet glumes herbaceous; muticous. Companion sterile spikelet lemmas enclosed by glumes.
    Fertile
    Spikelets comprising 1 basal sterile florets; 1 fertile florets; without rhachilla extension. Spikelets oblong, or ovate, or obovate, or orbicular; dorsally compressed; 3-10 mm long; persistent on plant. Spikelet callus glabrous, or pilose; base obtuse.
    Glume
    Glumes dissimilar; with lower wider than upper; exceeding apex of florets; firmer than fertile lemma; parallel to lemmas, or gaping. Lower glume ovate; 1 length of spikelet; chartaceous, or coriaceous; pallid, or red, or black; 2-keeled; keeled above. Lower glume surface glabrous, or pilose. Lower glume apex obtuse, or acute. Upper glume ovate; chartaceous, or coriaceous; 1-keeled; keeled above; 5-7 -veined. Upper glume surface glabrous, or pubescent. Upper glume margins ciliate. Upper glume apex entire, or dentate; 2 -fid.
    Florets
    Basal sterile florets barren; without significant palea. Lemma of lower sterile floret elliptic; 0.8 length of spikelet; hyaline; 2-5 -veined; ciliolate on margins. Fertile lemma obovate; 1-3 mm long; hyaline; 1-3 -veined. Lemma margins ciliate. Lemma apex entire, or dentate; 2 -fid; muticous, or awned; 1 -awned. Principal lemma awn from a sinus; geniculate; with twisted column. Column of lemma awn pubescent; hairy on the spiral. Palea present.
    Flowers
    Lodicules 2; ciliate.
    Fruits
    Caryopsis exposed between gaping lemma and palea at maturity.
    Distribution
    Europe: central, southwestern, southeastern, and eastern. Africa: north, Macaronesia, west tropical, west-central tropical, northeast tropical, east tropical, southern tropical, south, and western Indian ocean. Asia-temperate: Siberia, Soviet far east, Soviet Middle Asia, Caucasus, western Asia, Arabia, China, Mongolia, and eastern Asia. Asia-tropical: India, Indo-China, Malesia, and Papuasia. Australasia: Australia and New Zealand. Pacific: southwestern, south-central, northwestern, and north-central. North America: northwest USA, north-central USA, northeast USA, southwest USA, south-central USA, southeast USA, and Mexico. South America: Mesoamericana, Caribbean, northern South America, western South America, Brazil, and southern South America.
    Reference
    Andropogoneae. WDC.
    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Sorghum is one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops. Grown in over a hundred countries it is the fifth most widely grown cereal crop after wheat, rice, maize, and barley.

    Sorghum is considered the 'camel of the crops', a true testament to its hardiness and ability to grow in dry, nutrient-poor soils and withstand prolonged droughts. It is especially adapted to grow in dry areas but, being so rich in diversity, it also grows well in temperate and high altitude environments. Sorghum is a staple food for more than 500 million people in more than 30 countries. Preserving the genetic diversity of this crop is integral to safeguarding the food security of the people who depend on it.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Sorghum bicolor is widely cultivated in the drier areas of Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America and Europe. It is also found in tropic, subtropic and warm-temperate regions.

    The greatest diversity of cultivated and wild types of sorghum is found in north-eastern Africa where the crop was first cultivated in 5,000 to 3,000 BC.

    Although the largest bulk producer today is the USA, about 90% of the area planted to sorghum lies in developing countries, mainly in Africa, and Asia where it is grown by subsistence farmers. 

    Description

    Overview:  Sorghum bicolor is an annual with erect, robust stems which can grow up to 600 cm long.

    Leaves: The leaf-blade base is broadly rounded and the leaf blades themselves can be up to one metre long.

    Flowers:The inflorescence is a panicle (a highly branched inflorescence) 4–50 cm long and 2–20 cm wide. The spikelets (clustered units of flowers and bracts) are in pairs, the fertile spikelets being fixed directly onto the axis and the sterile spikelets on stalks. The sterile spikelets are well developed and as long as the fertile ones. The upper and lower glumes (empty bracts that enclose the florets) are of different sizes, the lower wider than the upper. Both can be of a leathery or papery texture. The flower contains two lodicules (small structures at the base of the stamens) the surface of which is covered in hair-like projections.

    Fruits:The fruit is a caryopsis (a fruit in which the seed is fused to an outer wall) which is exposed at maturity.

    Uses

    Sorghum bicolor is cultivated in many parts of the world today. It is an important food crop in the semi-arid tropics and it is commonly cultivated for feeding livestock in the Americas and Australia.

    The grain itself is quite small and is easy to prepare. It can be boiled, roasted or popped (like maize) and when ground into flour it can be used to make porridge, pancakes, dumplings or couscous. Sorghum flour is also used in the production of beers and other non-alcoholic beverages and can be used to make an adhesive in the manufacture of plywood.

    Birds also enjoy the taste of sorghum so when bird pressure is high some farmers prefer to grow a variety of sorghum in which the grains are bitter on account of their high tannin content. Both birds and humans find this unprocessed sorghum variety unpalatable although, when cooked or fermented, a delicious dish can be made. In general, white grain is preferred for cooking and the reddish, bird-resistant grain is used for beer making.

    In the southern United States, a sweet syrup is made from pressing the stems of sorghum to extract their juice. The sweet sorghum variety is also grown as an energy crop, producing ethanol for use as a biofuel. The roots of sorghum can be used as fuel for cooking.

    Beyond the use of the grain as a food source, the entire plant can be used for forage, hay or silage. The stems are used for building, fencing, weaving, broom making and firewood. Industrially, it can be used for vegetable oil, waxes and dyes. The rich violet tones of sorghum dye are used to decorate the masks worn during certain dances by Yoruba people in Southern Benin and in south-western Nigeria.

    Sorghum has a number of medicinal applications. In African traditional medicine seed extracts are drunk as a remedy for hepatitis, and decoctions of twigs with lemon against jaundice. Leaves and panicles are included in plant mixtures for decoctions against anaemia. The red pigment of some sorghum varieties is thought to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties and is also used as a cure for anaemia in traditional medicine.

    The Salka people in Nigeria use sorghum in arrow poisons. 

    Crop wild relatives of sorghum

    The most serious pest of sorghum is a parasitic plant,  Striga asiatica. Nicknamed 'the witch weed', this pest can destroy 70-100% of the potential yield of staple crops in the semi-arid tropics. The good news is that varying degrees of resistance to the witch weed have been found in the wild relatives of sorghum and these resistance genes can be passed onto cultivated sorghum.  Striga-resistant varieties of sorghum have thickened root walls which make it impossible for  Striga to penetrate – without a host, the witch weed withers and dies. 

    The centre of origin of  Sorghum bicolor is Africa, and Ethiopia is reported to contain the highest genetic diversity for this species. Asia is also a hotspot for sorghum diversity due to the early introduction of the crop there. The wild relatives of cultivated sorghum that grow in these centres of diversity are valuable sources of resistance to insect pests, diseases and other stresses such as drought and high temperatures. They can also be exploited to source traits that improve yield and food and fodder quality.

    Many of the wild relatives of sorghum are under-represented in genebank collections, because they are rare or located in extremely isolated areas. In addition, many species are under threat due to habitat destruction, commercial agricultural practices and industrial activities.

    The Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are engaged in a ten-year project, called 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change'. The project aims to protect, collect and prepare the wild relatives of 29 key food crops, including sorghum, so that they are available to pre-breeders for the development of new varieties that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The  Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plants worldwide, focusing on those plants which are under threat and those which are of most use in the future. Once seeds have been collected they are dried, packaged and stored at -20°C in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank vault.

    Description of seeds: Average weight of 1,000 seeds = 14.3 gNumber of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: TwoSeed storage behaviour: Orthodox (the seeds of this plant can be dried to a low moisture content without significantly reducing their viability which means they are suitable for long-term frozen storage)Germination testing: Successful

    This species at Kew

    The Economic Botany Collection houses a number of sorghum artefacts, among them a Ugandan bowl made from stems of sorghum.

    Distribution
    Ethiopia, USA
    Ecology
    Sorghum is adapted to a wide range of ecological conditions. It is mostly cultivated in hot, dry regions, although it can still survive cool weather as well as waterlogged habitats.
    Conservation
    Widespread in cultivation.
    [KSP]
    Use
    Food, livestock feed, hay, silage, building material, firewood, vegetable oil, dyes, medicinal, biofuel.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Chad, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Sudan

    Introduced Into:

    Afghanistan, Alabama, Algeria, Amur, Andaman Is., Angola, Arizona, Arkansas, Aruba, Assam, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Borneo, Brazil North, Brazil South, Brazil Southeast, Brazil West-Central, Bulgaria, Burkina, Burundi, California, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canary Is., Cape Verde, Cayman Is., Central African Repu, Central European Rus, China North-Central, China South-Central, China Southeast, Christmas I., Cocos (Keeling) Is., Colombia, Colorado, Comoros, Connecticut, Cook Is., Corse, Costa Rica, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, District of Columbia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, East Aegean Is., East Himalaya, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Fiji, Florida, France, French Guiana, Georgia, Great Britain, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gulf States, Guyana, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, Hungary, Idaho, Illinois, India, Indiana, Iowa, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jawa, Kansas, Kazakhstan, Kentucky, Khabarovsk, Kirgizstan, Korea, Krym, Laos, Lebanon-Syria, Leeward Is., Libya, Louisiana, Madagascar, Madeira, Maine, Malaya, Marianas, Marshall Is., Maryland, Masachusettes, Mauritius, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Morocco, Myanmar, Nansei-shoto, Nebraska, Nepal, Netherlands Antilles, Nevada, New Caledonia, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, New Zealand North, New Zealand South, Nicaragua, Niue, North Carolina, North Caucasus, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oman, Ontario, Oregon, Pakistan, Palestine, Panamá, Pennsylvania, Peru, Portugal, Primorye, Puerto Rico, Québec, Rhode I., Romania, Rwanda, Sakhalin, Sardegna, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Society Is., South Carolina, South Dakota, South European Russi, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tadzhikistan, Tennessee, Texas, Thailand, Togo, Transcaucasus, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkey-in-Europe, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Utah, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vermont, Vietnam, Virginia, Wake I., Washington, West Himalaya, Windward Is., Wisconsin, Wyoming, Xinjiang, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zaïre

    Common Names

    English
    Sorghum

    Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench appears in other Kew resources:

    First published in Methodus: 207 (1794)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Parslow, R. & Bennallick, I. (2017) The new flora of the Isles of Scilly . Parslow Press
    • [2] Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015) The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan . Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [3] (2014) Webbia; Raccolta de Scritti Botanici 69: 145-156
    • [4] Chang, C.S., Kim, H. & Chang, K.S. (2014) Provisional checklist of vascular plants for the Korea peninsula flora (KPF) . DESIGNPOST
    • [5] (2013) Botanical Sciences 91: 461-475
    • [7] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [9] (2011) Darwiniana 49: 139-247
    • [10] Onana, J.M. (2011) The vascular plants of Cameroon a taxonomic checklist with IUCN assessments . National herbarium of Cameroon, Yaoundé
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    • [16] (2009) Scripta Botanica Belgica 41: 1-517
    • [17] (2008) Encyclopedia of Flora and Fauna of Bangladesh 12: 1-505. Asiatic Society of Bangladesh
    • [19] (2008) Strelitzia 22: 1-279. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria
    • [20] Hokche, O., Berry, P.E. & Huber, O. (eds.) (2008) Nuevo Catálogo de la Flora Vascular de Venezuela . Fundación Instituto Botánico de Venezuela
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    • [24] (2007) Flora of the Arabian peninsula and Socotra 5(1): 1-387. Edinburgh University Press
    • [25] Newman, M., Ketphanh, S., Svengsuksa, B., Thomas, P., Sengdala, K., Lamxay, V. & Armstrong, K. (2007) A checklist of the vascular plants of Lao PDR . Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
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    • [37] Flora of North America Editorial Committee (2003) Flora of North America North of Mexico 25: 1-781. Oxford University Press, New York, Oxford
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    • [47] (1994) Flora Mesoamericana 6: 1-543. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F.
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    • [53] (1992) Scripta Botanica Belgica 2: 1-153
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    • [59] Koyama, T. (1987) Grasses of Japan and its neighboring regions: an identification manual . Kodansha, Tokyo, Japan
    • [60] Boudet, G., Lebrun, J.P. & Demange, R. (1986) Catalogue des plantes vasculaires du Mali . Etudes d'Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux
    • [62] Kharkevich, S.S., Probatova, N.S. & Novikov, V.S. (1985) Sosudistye rasteniia sovetskogo Dal’nego Vostoka 1: 1-383. Izd-vo "Nauka," Leningradskoe otd-nie, Leningrad
    • [63] Meikle, R.D. (1985) Flora of Cyprus 2: 833-1970. The Bentham-Moxon Trust Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [64] Brunel, J.F., Hiepo, P. & Scholz, H. (eds.) (1984) Flore Analytique du Togo Phanérogames: 1-751. GTZ, Eschborn
    • [65] (1982) Flora of Pakistan 143: 1-678. Department of Botany, University of Karachi, Karachi
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    • [68] Peyre de Fabregues, B. & Lebrun, J.-P. (1976) Catalogue des Plantes Vascularies du Niger . Institut d' Elevage et de Médecine Vétérinaire des Pays Tropicaux, Maisons Alfort
    • [69] Walker, E.H. (1976) Flora of Okinawa and the southern Ryukyu islands . Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C., U.S.A.
    • [70] Lebrun, J.P. (1973) Énumération des plantes vasculaires du Sénégal . Maisons Alfort: Institut d'élevage et de médecine vétérinaire des pays tropicaux
    • [71] (1972) Flora of West Tropical Africa , ed. 2, 3(2): 277-574
    • [74] (1970) Flora Iranica 70: 1-573. Naturhistorisches Museums Wien
    • [76] (1968) Flora of Iraq 9: 1-588. Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, Baghdad

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    [A] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

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    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
    [B] See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [C] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    [D]
    [E] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

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    Roger and Alison Heath, Plants and People Africa
    [F]