Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Subfamily: Panicoideae
Genus: Sorghum
S. bicolor
Binomial name
Sorghum bicolor
    • Agrostis nigricans (Ruiz & Pav.) Poir.
    • Andropogon besseri Kunth
    • Andropogon bicolor (L.) Roxb.
    • Andropogon caffrorum (Thunb.) Kunth
    • Andropogon compactus Brot.
    • Andropogon dulcis Burm.f.
    • Andropogon niger (Ard.) Kunth
    • Andropogon saccharatrus Kunth
    • Andropogon saccharatus (L.) Raspail
    • Andropogon sorghum (L.) Brot.
    • Andropogon subglabrescens Steud.
    • Andropogon truchmenorum Walp.
    • Andropogon usorum Steud.
    • Andropogon vulgare (Pers.) Balansa
    • Andropogon vulgaris Raspail
    • Holcus arduinii J.F.Gmel.
    • Holcus bicolor L.
    • Holcus cafer Ard.
    • Holcus caffrorum (Retz.) Thunb.
    • Holcus cernuus Ard.
    • Holcus cernuus Muhl. nom. illeg.
    • Holcus cernuus Willd. nom. illeg.
    • Holcus compactus Lam.
    • Holcus dochna Forssk.
    • Holcus dora Mieg
    • Holcus duna J.F.Gmel.
    • Holcus durra Forssk.
    • Holcus niger Ard.
    • Holcus nigerrimus Ard.
    • Holcus rubens Gaertn.
    • Holcus saccharatus var. technicus (Körn.) Farw.
    • Holcus sorghum L.
    • Holcus sorghum Brot. nom. illeg.
    • Milium bicolor (L.) Cav.
    • Milium compactum (Lam.) Cav.
    • Milium maximum Cav.
    • Milium nigricans Ruiz & Pav.
    • Milium sorghum (L.) Cav.
    • Panicum caffrorum Retz.
    • Panicum frumentaceum Salisb. nom. illeg.
    • Rhaphis sorghum (L.) Roberty
    • Sorghum abyssinicum (Hack.) Chiov. nom. illeg.
    • Sorghum ankolib (Hack.) Stapf
    • Sorghum anomalum Desv.
    • Sorghum arduinii (Gmel.) J.Jacq.
    • Sorghum basiplicatum Chiov.
    • Sorghum basutorum Snowden
    • Sorghum caffrorum (Retz.) P.Beauv.
    • Sorghum campanum Ten. & Guss.
    • Sorghum caudatum (Hack.) Stapf
    • Sorghum centroplicatum Chiov.
    • Sorghum cernuum (Ard.) Host
    • Sorghum compactum Lag.
    • Sorghum conspicuum Snowden
    • Sorghum coriaceum Snowden
    • Sorghum dochna (Forssk.) Snowden
    • Sorghum dora (Mieg) Cuoco
    • Sorghum dulcicaule Snowden
    • Sorghum dura Griseb.
    • Sorghum durra (Forssk.) Batt. & Trab.
    • Sorghum elegans (Körn.) Snowden
    • Sorghum eplicatum Chiov.
    • Sorghum exsertum Snowden
    • Sorghum gambicum Snowden
    • Sorghum giganteum Edgew.
    • Sorghum glabrescens (Steud.) Schweinf. & Asch.
    • Sorghum glycychylum Pass.
    • Sorghum guineense Stapf
    • Sorghum japonicum (Hack.) Roshev.
    • Sorghum margaritiferum Stapf
    • Sorghum medioplicatum Chiov.
    • Sorghum melaleucum Stapf
    • Sorghum melanocarpum Huber
    • Sorghum mellitum Snowden
    • Sorghum membranaceum Chiov.
    • Sorghum miliiforme (Hack.) Snowden
    • Sorghum nankinense Huber
    • Sorghum nervosum Besser ex Schult. & Schult.f.
    • Sorghum nervosum Chiov. nom. illeg.
    • Sorghum nigricans (Ruiz & Pav.) Snowden
    • Sorghum nigrum (Ard.) Roem. & Schult.
    • Sorghum notabile Snowden
    • Sorghum pallidum Chiov. nom. illeg.
    • Sorghum papyrascens Stapf
    • Sorghum rigidum Snowden
    • Sorghum rollii Chiov.
    • Sorghum roxburghii var. hians (Hook.f.) Stapf
    • Sorghum saccharatum Host nom. illeg.
    • Sorghum saccharatum (L.) Pers. nom. illeg.
    • Sorghum sativum (Hack.) Batt. & Trab.
    • Sorghum schimperi (Hack.) Chiov. nom. illeg.
    • Sorghum simulans Snowden
    • Sorghum splendidum (Hack.) Snowden
    • Sorghum subglabrescens (Steud.) Schweinf. & Asch.
    • Sorghum tataricum Huber
    • Sorghum technicum (Körn.) Batt. & Trab.
    • Sorghum technicum (Körn.) Roshev.
    • Sorghum truchmenorum K.Koch
    • Sorghum usorum Nees
    • Sorghum vulgare Pers. nom. illeg.

Sorghum bicolor, commonly called sorghum[2] (/ˈsɔːrɡəm/) and also known as great millet,[3] broomcorn,[4] guinea corn,[5] durra,[6] imphee,[7] jowar,[8] or milo,[9] is a species in the grass genus Sorghum cultivated for its grain. The grain is used for food for humans; the plant is used for animal feed and ethanol production. Sorghum originated in Africa, and is now cultivated widely in tropical and subtropical regions.

Sorghum is the world's fifth-most important cereal crop after rice, wheat, maize, and barley. Sorghum is typically an annual, but some cultivars are perennial. It grows in clumps that may reach over 4 metres (13 ft) high. The grain is small, 2 to 4 millimetres (0.08 to 0.2 in) in diameter. Sweet sorghums are cultivars primarily grown for forage, syrup production, and ethanol; they are taller than those grown for grain.


See also: Sorghum (genus)

Sorghum is a large stout grass that grows up to 2.4 metres (7.9 ft) tall. It has large bushy flowerheads or panicles that provide an edible starchy grain with up to 3,000 seeds in each flowerhead. It grows in warm climates worldwide for food and forage.[10][11][12] Sorghum is native to Africa with many cultivated forms.[13][14] Most production uses annual cultivars, but some wild species of Sorghum are perennial, which may enable the Land Institute to develop a perennial cultivar for "repeated, sufficient grain harvests without resowing."[15][16]



Sorghum is closely related to maize and the millets within the PACMAD clade of grasses, and more distantly to the cereals of the BOP clade such as wheat and barley.[17]

(Part of Poaceae)
BOP clade

Bambusoideae (bamboos)

other grasses

 (fescue, ryegrass)


Hordeum (barley)

Triticum (wheat)

Secale (rye)

Oryza (rice)

PACMAD clade

Pennisetum (fountaingrasses, pearl millet)


Sorghum (sorghum)

Zea (maize)



Further information: Domestication of plants

Piece of sorghum bread contained in basket, Predynastic Egypt, c. 3100 BC (5,100 years ago). Egyptian Museum, Turin[18]

S. bicolor was domesticated from its wild ancestor more than 5,000 years ago in Eastern Sudan in the area of the Rivers Atbara and Gash.[19][20] It has been found at an archaeological site near Kassala in eastern Sudan, dating from 3500 to 3000 BC, and is associated with the neolithic Butana Group culture.[21] Sorghum bread from graves in Predynastic Egypt, some 5,100 years ago, is displayed in the Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy.[18]

The first race to be domesticated was bicolor; it had tight husks that had to be removed forcibly. Around 4,000 years ago, this spread to the Indian subcontinent; around 3,000 years ago it reached West Africa.[19] Four other races evolved through cultivation to have larger grains and to become free-threshing, making harvests easier and more productive. These were caudatum in the Sahel; durra, most likely in India; guinea in West Africa (later reaching India), and from that race mageritiferum that gave rise to the varieties of Southern Africa.[19]

Domestication and the five major races of sorghum[19]


Making sweet sorghum molasses in rural Tennessee, 1933

In the Middle Ages, the Arab Agricultural Revolution spread sorghum and other crops from Africa and Asia across the Arab world as far as Al-Andalus in Spain.[22] Sorghum remained the staple food of the medieval kingdom of Alodia and most Sub-Saharan cultures prior to European colonialism.[23]

Tall varieties of sorghum with a high sugar content are called sweet sorghum; these are useful for producing a sugar-rich syrup and as forage.[24][25] Sweet sorghum was important to the sugar trade in the 19th century.[26] The price of sugar was rising because of decreased production in the British West Indies and more demand for confectionery and fruit preserves, and the United States was actively searching for a sugar plant that could be produced in northern states. The "Chinese sugar-cane", sweet sorghum, was viewed as a plant that would be productive in the West Indies.[27]

The name sorghum derives from Italian sorgo, which in turn most likely comes from 12th century Medieval Latin surgum or suricum. This in turn may be from Latin syricum, meaning "[grass] of Syria".[28]



Most varieties of sorghum are drought- and heat-tolerant, nitrogen-efficient,[29] and are grown particularly in arid and semi-arid regions where the grain is one of the staples for poor and rural people. These varieties provide forage in many tropical regions. S. bicolor is a food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia, and is the fifth most common cereal crop grown in the world.[30][31] It is most often grown without application of fertilizers or other inputs by small-holder farmers in developing countries.[32] They benefit from sorghum's ability to compete effectively with weeds, especially when it is planted in narrow rows. Sorghum actively suppresses weeds by producing sorgoleone, an alkylresorcinol.[33]

Sorghum grows in a wide range of temperatures. It can tolerate high altitude and toxic soils, and can recover growth after some drought.[24] Optimum growth temperature range is 12–34 °C (54–93 °F), and the growing season lasts for ~ 115-140 days. [34] It can grow on a wide range of soils, such as heavy clay to sandy soils with the pH tolerance ranging from 5.0 to 8.5.[35] It requires an arable field that has been left fallow for at least two years or where crop rotation with legumes has taken place in the previous year.[36] Diversified 2- or 4-year crop rotation can improve sorghum yield, additionally making it more resilient to inconsistent growth conditions.[37] In terms of nutrient requirements, sorghum is comparable to other cereal grain crops with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium required for growth.[38]

An international effort is under way to improve sorghum farming. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics has improved sorghum using traditional genetic improvement and integrated genetic and natural resources management practices. New varieties of sorghum from the institute has now resulted in India producing 7 metric tons per hectare (2.8 long ton/acre; 3.1 short ton/acre).[39] Some 194 improved cultivars are now planted worldwide. In India, increases in sorghum productivity resulting from improved cultivars have freed up 7 million hectares (17 million acres) of land, enabling farmers to diversify into high-income cash crops and boost their livelihoods.[40] Sorghum is used primarily as poultry feed, and secondarily as cattle feed and in brewing applications.[41]

Pests and diseases

Further information: List of sorghum diseases

Insect damage is a major threat to sorghum plants. Over 150 species damage crop plants at different stages of development, resulting in significant biomass loss.[42] Stored sorghum grain is attacked by other insect pests such as the lesser grain borer beetle.[43] Sorghum is a host of the parasitic plant Striga hermonthica, purple witchweed; it can seriously reduce production.[44] Sorghum is subject to a variety of plant pathogens. The fungus Colletotrichum sublineolum causes anthracnose.[45] The toxic ergot fungus parasitises the grain, risking harm to humans and livestock.[46] Sorghum produces chitinases as defensive compounds against fungal diseases. Transgenesis of additional chitinases increases the crop's disease resistance.[47]

Genetics and genomics

The genome of S. bicolor was sequenced between 2005 and 2007.[48][49] It is generally considered diploid and contains 20 chromosomes,[50] however, there is evidence to suggest a tetraploid origin for S. bicolor.[51] The genome size is approximately 800 Mbp.[52]

Paterson et al., 2009 provides a genome assembly of 739 megabase. The most commonly used genome database is SorGSD maintained by Luo et al., 2016. A gene expression atlas is available from Shakoor et al., 2014 with 27,577 genes. For molecular breeding (or other purposes) an SNP array has been created by Bekele et al., 2013, a 3K SNP Infinium from Illumina, Inc.[53]

Agrobacterium transformation can be used on sorghum, as shown in a 2018 report of such a transformation system.[54] A 2013 study developed and validated an SNP array for molecular breeding.[53][55]


Sorghum production – 2021
Country (Millions of tonnes)
 United States 11.4
 India 4.8
 Ethiopia 4.4
 Mexico 4.4
 Argentina 3.3
 China 3.0
World 61.4
Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations[56]

In 2021, world production of sorghum was 61 million tonnes, led by the United States with 19% of the total (table). India, Ethiopia, and Mexico were the largest secondary producers.[56]

Sorghum-growing areas of the US, the world's largest producer

International trade

In 2013, China began purchasing American sorghum as a complementary livestock feed to its domestically grown maize. It imported around $1 billion worth per year until April 2018, when it imposed retaliatory tariffs as part of a trade war.[57] By 2020, the tariffs have been waived, and trade volumes increased again[58] before declining again as China began buying sorghum from other countries.[59] As of 2020, China is the world's largest sorghum importer, importing more than all other countries combined.[58]


Sorghum grain
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy329 kJ (79 kcal)
72.1 g
Sugars2.53 g
Dietary fiber6.7 g
3.46 g
Saturated0.61 g
Monounsaturated1.13 g
Polyunsaturated1.56 g
10.6 g
Vitamin A equiv.
0 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.332 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.096 mg
Niacin (B3)
3.69 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.367 mg
Vitamin B6
0.443 mg
Folate (B9)
20 μg
Vitamin C
0 mg
Vitamin E
0.5 mg
13 mg
0.284 mg
3.36 mg
165 mg
1.6 mg
289 mg
363 mg
12.2 μg
2 mg
1.67 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water12.4 g

Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults,[60] except for potassium, which is estimated based on expert recommendation from the National Academies.[61]

The grain is edible and nutritious. It can be eaten raw when young and milky, but has to be boiled or ground into flour when mature.[62]

Sorghum grain is 72% carbohydrates including 7% dietary fiber, 11% protein, 3% fat, and 12% water (table). In a reference amount of 100 grams (3.5 oz), sorghum grain supplies 79 calories and rich contents (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of several B vitamins and dietary minerals (table).

In the early stages of plant growth, some sorghum species may contain levels of hydrogen cyanide, hordenine, and nitrates lethal to grazing animals.[63] Plants stressed by drought or heat can also contain toxic levels of cyanide and nitrates at later stages in growth.[64]


Sorghum is widely used for food and animal fodder. It is also used to make alcoholic beverages, and biofuels such as ethanol.[11] It can be made into couscous, porridge, or flatbreads such as Indian Jōḷada roṭṭi or tortillas; and it can be burst in hot oil to make a popcorn, smaller than that of maize. Since it does not contain gluten, it can be used in gluten-free diets.[65]

In Nigeria, the pulverized red leaf-sheaths of sorghum have been used to dye leather, while in Algeria, sorghum has been used to dye wool.[66]

In South Africa, characteristically sour malwa beer is made from sorghum or millet. The process involves souring the mashed grain with lactic acid bacteria, followed by fermenting by the wild yeasts that were on the grain.[67]

In India, the panicle stalks are used as bristles for brooms.[68]

In countries including the US, the stalks of sweet sorghum varieties are crushed in a cane juicer to extract the sweet molasses-like juice. The juice is sold as syrup,[69][70][71] and used as a feedstock to make biofuel.[72]

In human culture

In Australia, sorghum is personified as a spirit among the Dagoman people of Northern Territory, as well as being used for food; the local species are S. intrans and S. plumosum.[73]

In Korea, the origin tale "Brother and sister who became the Sun and Moon" is also called "The reason sorghum is red".[74] In the tale, a tiger who is chasing a brother and sister follows them up a rotten rope as they climb into the sky, and become the sun and moon. The rope breaks, and the tiger falls to its death, impaling itself on a sorghum stalk, which becomes red with its blood.[75]

In Northeastern Italy in the early modern period, sticks of sorghum were used by Benandanti visionaries of the Friuli district to fight off witches who were thought to threaten crops and people.[76]

See also


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