It is a perennial rhizomatous grass native to east and southeast Asia, India, Micronesia, Australia, and eastern and southern Africa. It grows from 0.6–3 m (2–10 feet) tall. The leaves are about 2 cm wide near the base of the plant and narrow to a sharp point at the top; the margins are finely toothed and are embedded with sharp silica crystals. The main vein is a lighter colour than the rest of the leaf and tends to be nearer to one side of the leaf. The upper surface is hairy near the base of the plant while the underside is usually hairless. Roots are up to 1.2 meters deep, but 0.4 m is typical in sandy soil.

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