The genus was first described by the German botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1805, based on specimens collected by Daniel Solander at Botany Bay during Cook's expedition in 1770. A number of synonyms are known, including Imperatrum cylindricum (described by Nathaniel Wallich in 1832) and Imperata indica (William Roxburgh in 1832).
The species has had many varietal names, including Imperata angustifolia and Imperata angustifolia var. angustifolia (described by Philipp Franz von Siebold & Hermann Karsten in 1870), but these are no longer used.
Imperata cylindrica is a perennial, deciduous grass growing to 1–2 m (3–6 ft) tall, with arching or erect stems.
Imperata cylindrica is a dominant grass species in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. It is known as Japanese bloodgrass, redtop grass, Guineagrass and cogon grass. It may be used for decorative purposes and as fodder. In some parts of the world, it is considered an invasive species in natural habitats.
Imperata cylindrica is one of the most important weeds in the world. It occurs in all tropical and warm temperate regions throughout the globe. It occurs both in cultivated fields, where it interferes with crop production, and in natural ecosystems where it strongly modifies the structure and functioning of ecosystems.
Imperata cylindrica has been observed as a weed in more than 50 countries on every continent except Antarctica. According to one source, it is established as an invasive weed in at least 32 countries with heavy infestations reported in 15 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, Nigeria, Philippines, Philippines-Palau Islands (Boracay), South Africa (South Africa-Lesotho border), Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka-India), Sudan (Sudan-Ethiopia border)