About 30 species, see text
Sorghum is a genus of grasses with about 30 species, one of which is raised for grain and many of which are used as fodder plants, either cultivated or as part of pasture. The plants are cultivated in warm climates worldwide. They are native to the tropics and subtropics of the Old World and one species is endemic to Mexico; a number have been introduced into other parts of the world. Sorghum is in the subfamily Panicoideae and the tribe Andropogoneae (the tribe of big bluestem and sugarcane).
One species, Sorghum bicolor, native to Africa with many cultivated forms now, is an important crop worldwide, used for food (as grain and in sorghum syrup or "sorghum molasses"), fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, and biofuels. Most varieties are drought- and heat-tolerant, and are especially important in arid regions, where the grain is one of the staples for poor and rural people. These varieties form important components of pastures in many tropical regions. S. bicolor is an important food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia, and is the "fifth-most important cereal crop grown in the world".
Some species of sorghum can contain levels of hydrogen cyanide, hordenine, and nitrates lethal to grazing animals in the early stages of the plants' growth. When stressed by drought or heat, plants can also contain toxic levels of cyanide and/or nitrates at later stages in growth.
S. vulgare var. technicum is commonly called broomcorn. An annual grass like other Sorghums, it grows 6 to 15 ft tall, although dwarf varieties are only 3 to 7 ft in height. The upper peduncle is normally 8 to 18 in long, topped by a branched inflorescence or panicle, from which the seed-bearing fibers originate. The fibers are usually 12 to 24 in long, but can be up to 36 in long; they are branched toward the tip where the flowers and seed grow. The seeds number about 30,000/lb, with feed value similar to oats. A ton of the fibrous panicle makes 900 to 1200 brooms.
Plants selected for long panicle branches probably originated in central Africa, but the variety was known to be used for broom-making in the Mediterranean in the Dark Ages. It was first described in Italy in the late 1500s.
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