Native Grasses


The grass family (Poaceae) is one of the largest and most cosmopolitan of the flowering plant families of the world comprising more than 10,000 species. Grasses are found almost everywhere (even Antarctica). They are adapted to a wide range of climatic and soil conditions, and grow in habitats ranging from deserts to freshwater and marine environments. Grasses form a major component of many vegetation communities e.g. grasslands, steppe, prairie and savannas.

Grasses are the most important plant family for humans. They provide a source of food (wheat, oats, maize, rice, sugarcane) and most of the grazing for wild and domesticated animals. Grass-use pervades all aspects of human endeavor: building materials, artistic pursuits, sports and leisure activities. New uses of grasses are still being found e.g. for environmental management. Humans have used grasses in a multiplicity of ways over a great period of time.

Native grasses are an important and integral component of many vegetation communities; therefore they have an important role to play in rehabilitation and revegetation programs. Grasses have fibrous root systems and they can hold soil together and reduce erosion. Certain grass species can be used to prevent soil erosion on unstable surfaces such as beach sands (Thuarea involuta) and riparian areas (Arundinella nepalensis).

Australian grasses provide food and shelter for many Australian birds and animals. The seeds of many native grasses are important components in the diet of several granivorous parrots and finches (Alloteropsis semialataChrysopogon fallaxEragrostis speciesHeteropogon triticeusSarga plumosumSetaria surgens), and the bulbous bases of some grasses are a food source for a number of native animals (Alloteropsis semialataChrysopogon fallax). The leaves of many species of grasses are used for nest and burrow linings for many Australian birds, animals and reptiles; also some grass species (Sarga plumosumThemeda triandra) are the main component in the diet of many Australian herbivores.

In Australia there are over 1300 species of grass including non-native grasses. In the Townsville region there are more than 220 grass species, 160 of these are native. Twelve species have been selected for inclusion in the report Native Grasses for Revegetation in the Townsville region. The choice of these species was based on a number of factors:

  • annuals to long-lived perennials
  • variable heights
  • variable environmental requirements
  • availability of seeds
  • germination knowledge
  • availability of seedlings

Planning is one of the most important aspects of any revegetation effort and the decision whether or not to use Australian native grasses is an integral part of this process. Most grasses grow best in full sun or partial shade and revegetation sites need to be prepared to give the new grasses the best possible chance of survival.

Although Australian native grass species are considered as being low input and low maintenance, this should not be confused with “zero” management. In many revegetation sites there may be a number of introduced or weed grasses which superficially look similar to native species, particularly seedlings. This is especially relevant in riparian areas where higher nutrient and moisture levels mean there are probably dense stands of non-native grasses. For this reason, getting to know the grass species on the site is very important.

Most Australian native grasses do not have the ability to compete with robust, non-native grasses e.g. Guinea Grass (Megathyrsus maximus), therefore it is best for the site to be free of these weedy species, or the site must be regularly maintained.

Selection of appropriate native grasses for a particular site will depend on the proposed use of the area e.g. erosion control. Some grass species can grow in a wide range of habitats and on a wide range of soil types.

Suggested Native Grass Species for the Dry Tropics region

Suggested native grass species for some habitats are listed below:

12 Grass Species

Twelve species have been selected for inclusion in the report Native Grasses for Revegetation in the Townsville region.

Native plant nurseries in the Burdekin Dry Tropics and adjacent

Coastal Dry Tropics Landcare Inc (Townsville)
Thompson street, Mundingburra, Queensland
Open Friday morning 800-1400
0428 428 542

Girringun (Cardwell)
235 Victoria street Cardwell Qld 4849
Open Monday to Thursday 0900-1600
07 4066 8300

Lower Burdekin Landcare Association (Ayr)
Kennedy Street, Ayr, Queensland
8.30 am-15.30 am Every Wednesday
9 am-11.30 am on the 1st Saturday morning of each month
(07) 4783 4344

Whitsunday Catchment Landcare (Proserpine)

Community Native Tree Nursery
Kelsey Creek Road, Proserpine
Open Tuesday & Thursday morning 0900-1200
And the first Saturday of each month 0900-1200
0408 187 944

Conservation Volunteers Australia (Townsville)
Rowes Bay Sustainability Centre
56 Cape Pallarenda Road, Rowes Bay
(07) 4774 1693
Open Friday morning 0800-1400

Revegetation Contractors (Townsville)
Street Address: 523 Hervey Range Road, Bohle Plains Qld 4817
Wholesale Nursery operating hours are 8.00am to 3pm, Monday to Friday, appointment only.
(07) 4755 1200

Further Resources

  • Native Grasses for Revegetation in the Townsville region
  • AusGrass2 – Grasses of Australia
  • Gardner CA (1952) Flora of Western Australia Vol. 1, Part 1. In ‘Gramineae’. (Government Printer:Perth)
  • Jacobs SWL, Whalley RDB, Wheeler DJB (2008) ‘Grasses of New South Wales (Fourth Edition).’ (University of New England: Armidale)
  • Sharp D, Simon BK (2002) AusGrass: grasses of Australia. CD-ROM, Version 1.0. (Australian Biological Resources Study: Canberra, and Environmental Protection Agency: Brisbane)
  • Simon BK (1993) ‘A Key to Australian Grasses.’ (Qld Dept Primary Industries: Brisbane)
  • Tothill JC, Hacker JB (1983) ‘The grasses of southern Queensland.’ (University of Queensland Press:St Lucia)