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Cenchrus ciliaris has become naturalized and often an invasive species in Australia, the southwestern United States, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, South America, and Macaronesia. In the Sonoran Desert it was introduced for erosion control. In the Mexico part of the Sonoran Desert it is still being planted and irrigated for livestock grazing.
It spreads very quickly and will often kill local native plants such as palo verdes by taking away nearby water. This plant has a very low ignition threshold and can burst into a raging flame even during the peak growing season. Its flammability and quick regrowth allow it to compete successfully against almost all vegetation in this region.