Setaria and Its Relatives in Agriculture

Setaria italica
The foxtail millet (Setaria italica)

Another member of the Setaria genus, Setaria italica (foxtail millet) is grown commercially in hot dry environments as a source of food for humans and animals.  It is a nutritious cereal crop with high protein and oil content.  Importantly, the foxtail millet is more tolerant to drought conditions than other crops, allowing it to be grown in environments where maize and sorghum cannot.  Most millet for food production is grown in Northwest China, India and in parts of Africa. Foxtail millet was one of the first domesticated crops and is thought to have been initially cultivated in the Yellow River basin of China.

Palm Grass (Setaria palmifolia)
Palm Grass (Setaria palmifolia), Photo by Forest & Kim Starr

Palm grass (Setaria palmifolia) is another member of the Setaria genus. This plant’s long broad leaves resemble palms, which makes it a popular ornamental plant.

A few other major agricultural crops are related to Setaria. For example, Setaria species, corn, sorghum, pearl millet and switchgrass are all members of the family Poaceae. Their relatedness means that research done with the green foxtail millet can also provide insight into these other agriculturally important plants. Corn and sorghum are both major crops grown for food, livestock feed and biofuel production. Pearl millet is grown as a food crop in India and Africa, and is the most commonly grown millet. Switchgrass is a prairie grass that can grow on marginal land (in soil not usually suitable for other food crops) and current research shows this plant is a promising candidate for biofuel production.

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