Grass Identification

While exploring individual native grass species and learning to identify them, it is important to know that a native grassland is extremely diverse, with many species in its composition. A mono-culture of any one of these grasses would not be desirable. Native grasslands contain many forbs, small, non-woody, broad-leafed plants as well as wild flowers and orchids.

Notes are provided to assist with identification of the following grasses:


A note on the images:

The images below were compiled by Sue Rahilly as part of the perennial Stipa calendar produced in early 2008. She has relied heavily on Plants of Western NSW by Cunningham, Mulham, Milthorpe and Leigh, Inkata Press, 1992. This is considered the definitive text on NSW plants.

Click on the thumbnails for large images. The scale on the ruler in the images is in centimetres.


Kangaroo grasses
(Themeda sp.)

 

 

Kangaroo grasses Kangaroo grasses (111 KB)

The genus Themeda has 16 species worldwide, and 3 in Australia, distributed in all states.

Themeda australis (aka Themeda triandra), commonly known as kangaroo grass, is a densely tufted perennial, summer-grwoing grass with a very distinctive seed head. It produces moderately high quantities of palatable forage, especially from the younger growth.

While very responsive to summer rain it does not withstand heavy grazing, especially during flowering (December/January). It is tolerant of fire and can be burnt to produce a 'green fire break' around fence lines.

A common species on all soil types, kangaroo grass is one of the most widely distributed grasses in Australia, once a dominant tussock over wide areas of grassland and woodland, now frequently outcompeted by introduced grasses.

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Wallaby grasses
(Danthonia sp.)

Wallaby grasses Wallaby grasses (94 KB)

 

There are about 150 species of Danthonia worldwide, with about 33 in Australia.

Occurring widely throughout NSW, they are readily identified by their white, fluffy seed heads. This is a cool season, palatable plant which can produce green leaves all year round if adequate soil moisture is available.

Most Danthonias respond to added nitrogen and are usually as nutritious as their introduced counterparts. While tolerant of grazing, they should be managed carefully, especially during flowering.

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Weeping grass
(Microlaena sp.)

Weeping grass Weeping grass (121 KB)

The genus Microlaena has 10 species, distributed in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. There are 2 species in Australia, M. stipoides being the most common in NSW.

This grass is classified as a year-long green perennial which makes most of its growth during summer.

It is often found in shaded, high fertility, grazed situations. It is responsive to added nitrogen and will produce a large bulk of green feed, especially when grown with white clover. It is also extremely valuable during dry periods.

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Native legume pea
(Glycine sp.)

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This is a very valuable native species. The nutritional value is as good as any introduced legume and it is a very water efficient plant with a very deep tap root. The glycine becomes dormant over the winter months with active growth resuming in early spring.

Colonies of glycine are found around fence posts, stumps, rocks and colonising in and amongst less desirable native plants such as Aristida (wire grass). It is believed to form symbiotic relationships with these lesser plants.

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Windmill grass
(Chloris sp.)

Windmill grass Windmill grass (101 KB)

 

This very common grass grows on both poor and rich soils. It emerges very quickly after rains in early spring. It also forms seed early in the growth period but continues to grow throughout the summer period until a large turf of grass is formed. It is liked by stock and eaten readily.

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Curly windmill grass
(Enteropogon sp.)

No image available

 

This grass is not a Chloris sp. but is in fact an Enteropogon. It is easily recognised by its taller and more leafy flag and its more tussocky growth.

From a palatability point of view the grass is probably superior in its younger stage to the true Chloris grasses. In the later stages of growth, the leaves are inclined to become harsh. It is a very water efficient plant and continues to grow during the driest periods.

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Queensland blue grass
(Dicanthium sp.)

Queensland blue grass Queensland blue grass (125 KB)

Recognisable because of its blue appearance it is a grass that does best on good soils. It is very frost sensitive but resumes growth on the approach of the slightest warm weather. The grass will stand a good deal of trampling as the tussocks are provided with a good root system. It is not as drought resistant as some of the other summer grasses but it is a heavy seeder and reproduces well given adequate rains.

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Common wheat grass (Elymus sp.)

Common wheat grass Common wheat grass (140 KB)

This grass is directly related to the species that our cultivated wheat is derived from however the major difference is that wheat grass is a perennial whilst modern wheat is an annual. It is a common grass. Its palatability depends often on the soil it is grown on. It is never a dominant grass in a mixed species pasture but is valued for its winter and spring feed value in the coldest of situations.

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