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Native Grasslands - PART 2: Growing a Natural Garden

from S.G.A.P Journal, November 1998, 14(8)

Native Grasslands Are More Than Just Grasses!

Ed: In their first article, Ann and Millie explained that native grasslands are naturally occurring areas that are covered with native grasses and their close relatives in the iron-grass, sedge, reed and rush families, and that have few or no trees. They can be ablaze with colour in spring, with daisies, lilies and other wildflowers. Grassy woodlands, on the other hand, have widely-scattered she-oaks, wattles, gums and native pines over the same or a very similar suite of native grasses and other low-growing plants.

Native Grasslands Are More Than Just Grasses!

  • They contain many different grasses and relatives, such as spear-grass (about 25 Austrostipa (syn. Stipa) spp.), wallaby-grass (about 12 Danthonia spp.), kangaroo-grass (Themeda triandra), lemon-scented grass (Cymbopogon ambiguus), three-awned grass (Aristida behriana and several others), iron-grass (Lomandra spp.), black-grass (Lepidosperma spp.), porcupine-grass (Triodia scariosa, T. iritans) and flax-lily (Dianella revoluta, D. longifolia).
  • Grasslands will have 40 - 80 or more different species in total. They have as many types of wildflowers and other flowering plants such as peas, lilies and daisies as they have grasses.
  • They should have lots of 'bare' ground which actually has a binding crust of lichens, mosses, blue-green algae and liverworts in between the grass clumps. This is where the native reptiles and seed-eating birds live and feed.
  • They can have widely-scattered shrubs and maybe a few trees mainly she-oak (Allocasuarina sp.), Christmas bush (Bursaria spinosa) and Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha).

Growing Our Native Grassland Wildflowers

Many of the wildflowers and native grasses of grasslands and grassy woodlands would make excellent cottage garden plants, and give imported garden flowers a run for their money. For example, commercially available species include: Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum), an everlasting-type daisy; Flax-lily (Dianella revoluta and D. longfolia), perennial upright leaves and tall heads of rich blue flowers; Native Lilac (Hardenbergia violacea), a twining plant with sprays of purple pea-flowers in winter; and Goddust Wattle (Acacia acinacea), a small shrub with golden wattle flowers.

In addition, many of the native grasses have lovely showy flowering heads and can put up a good fight for attractiveness with imported garden feature grasses such as pampas grass and feathertop grass. For example, in my garden, kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) flowers almost all year round, with showy carroty-red, green and black flower heads a metre tall.

The following are plants on which S.G.A.P. members might concentrate for growing and/or promoting because they are found almost exclusively in S.A. grasslands and grassy woodlands.

Table One: Wildflowers

Scientific Name Common Name
Acacia acinacea gold-dust wattle
Arthropodium fimbriatum small vanilla-lily
A. minus nodding vanilla-lily
Asperula conferta common woodruff
Atriplex semibaccata berry saltbush
Calocephalus citreus lemon-beauty-heads
Calostemma purpureum garland lily
Craspedia globosa drumsticks
Cryptandra amara var. floribunda pretty cryptandra
Cullen parva small scurf-pea
Cymbonotus preissianus austral bears ear
Cynoglossum suaveolens sweet hounds tongue
Dianella longifolia pale flax-lily
Dodonaea procumbens trailing hop-bush
Eryngium rostratum blue devil
Goodenia albiflora white goodenia
G pinnatifida cut-leaf goodenia
Lagenifera huegelii coarse bottle-daisy
Leptorhynchos elongatus lanky buttons daisy
L. squamatus scaly buttons daisy
L. tetrachaetus wiry buttons daisy
Maireana decalvans black cotton-bush
M enchylaenoides wingless bluebush
M excavate bottle bluebush
Olearia pannosa ssp. pannosa silver-leafed daisy bush
Pimelea curvifolia curved rice-flower
P. humilis common rice-flower
P micrantha silky rice-flower
Podolepis cancescens large copper-wire daisy
P jaceoides showy podolepis
Psoralea (see Cullen)  
Ptilotus erubescen hairy heads, hairy tails
Sida, corrugata corrugated sida
Templetonia stenophylla leafy templetonia
Velleia paradoxes spur velleia
Vittadinia blackii Black's vittadinia
V gracilis woolly New Holland daisy
Wahlenbergia luteola yellow-wash bluebell
Wurmbea latifolia early Nancy

Table Two: Native Grasses and Close Relatives

Scientific Name Common Name
Aristida behriana three-awned grass
Austrostipa blackii crested spear-grass
A. curticoma spear-grass
A. gibbosa spear-grass
A. multipiculis spear-grass
A. setacea corkscrew spear-grass
Bothriochloa macro red-leg grass, red grass
Chloris truncate windmill grass
Danthonia auriculata lobed wallaby-grass
D. carphoides short wallaby-grass
D. linkii var. fulva Link wallaby-grass
Dicanthium sericeum silky blue-grass
Elymus scabrus tall or common wheat-grass
Enneapogon nigricans blackhead grass
Homopholis proluta rigid panic
Juncus homalocaulis wiry rush
J. radula hoary rush
J subsecundus finger rush
Lepidosperma lineare little sword-sedge
Lomandra nana little mat-rush
Panicum effusum hairy panic
Paspalidium constricts knotty-butt paspalidium
Stipa (see Austrostipa)  

These lists are from Rick Davies (1997) Weed Management in Temperate Native Grasslands and Box Grassy Woodlands in South Australia Black Hill Flora Centre, Adelaide.

Article by Ann Prescott and Millie Nicholls.

The Native Grasslands Project

Ann and Millie work on the South Australian Temperate Grassland Project, which is funded by the Natural Heritage Trust and supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The Native Grasslands Project is working with landholders, Local Government and other groups in the Mid-North to improve the condition of native grasslands, both to retain their grazing potential and for nature conservation. If you are interested in knowing more about native grassland or grassy woodland in the Mid-North, you can contact Millie Nicholls, or Ann Prescott, through The Australian Plants Society SA.