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Natural populations

Previously of the genus Danthonia, the new name of Austrodanthonia was proposed by Linder (1997). A widespread perennial winter grass, Austrodanthonia caespitosa occurs throughout temperate Australia, south of 32 degrees latitude, generally restricted to sunny habitats, from grassland to desert to heathlands [7, 42]. It occurs across a wide geographical and environmental range but not abundant in the alps or saline environments [16] It is a significant species on the Nullabor Plain on clayey soils [18]. It grows in clay soils as well as on sandy clay loams; it appears to avoid sandy soils [18].

Austrodanthonia is expected to exhibit strong population differences [33]. There is a morphological difference between those in Tasmania and Victoria to the rest of the mainland [42], as well as differences in flowering times [102]. It would be sensible to suggest therefore that moving the Tasmanian types to western NSW and vice versa would result in reduced performance [102]. Waters (2003) indicates that populations may be genetically distinct over quite small distances (<5.5 km) [104]. Overall, there is a great level of variability in this species [16], with specimens approaching other species in some cases [47]. Two forms are highlighted in the Victorian plant population; a form from swamps in the far south west (lower Glenelg River and Dergholm areas) and a coastal form (known from Anglesea, Frankston area, Phillip Island and south Gippsland) [16]. Investigation of variation in Austrodanthonia in WA is currently underway [pers. comm. Terry MacFarlane, DEC, Western Australia].

Flowering and seeds

It flowers in spring and summer [7, 16, 43, 44, 47] or in response to rain [43]. The seed collecting time in WA is in December to January with sowing of seed in autumn [64]. Fruit is dispersed by wind or unintentionally by animals [90]. When propagating, use fresh seed before certain dormancy sets in [93]. After broadcasting fresh seed, Austrodanthonia is quick to establish, with good tussock growth within 12 months (pers. comm. Paul Gibson-Roy, Grassy Groundcover Project]. If broadcast by hand, from the first autumn rains in March, it generally takes 2 years to establish [40].

Cultivation and uses

A valuable forage in winter, as the grass makes most of its growth in late winter to early summer, following winter rains as temperatures rise, and produces large quantities of very palatable forage [17, 18, 47]. It is recognized as a valuable pasture plant for cleared hill country and poorer class land [40]. After flowering, the stems and seedheads dry off to remain standing as hay or roughage of reasonable quality, the leaves remain green unless very dry conditions persist [17]. Wallaby grasses grow well under heavy grazing and will respond to increased fertility though fertiliser application is not needed for persistence [47]. It withstands drought, heavy frosts and increases with increased stocking rates [38].

Key descriptors:
Climate parameters
Mean annual rainfall: 200-3100 mm
Rainfall distribution pattern: uniform or winter
Mean annual temperature: 8-21 °C
Mean max. temperature of the hottest month: 15-36 °C
Mean min. temperature of the coldest month: -3-9 °C
Frosts (approx. no. per year): greater than 20
Frost intensity: light to moderate (0 to -5°C)
Altitude: 0-1650 metres
Tolerance of climate extremes
Drought: known to be tolerant of protracted droughts
Frost: tolerates frosts in the 0° to -5°C range
Soil factors
Texture: clay loam, cracking clays, heavy clay (greater than 50% clay), light to medium clay (35-50% clay) or loam, sandy loam, sandy clay loam
Soil pH reaction: acidic (less than 6.5)
Soil depth: skeletal to shallow (less than 30 cm) or moderate to deep (30-100 cm or greater)
Drainage: 1. well-drained
Salinity slightly to moderately saline or non-saline
Tolerance of adverse soils
Extremes in texture: cracking clay or clayey
Biological traits under cultivation
Habit: evergreen grass
Longevity: short-lived less than 15 years
Root system: shallow and spreading
Erosion control potential: excellent for clayey sites
Potentially undesirable attributes
Foliage: highly susceptible to browsing by animals

References

[7] Sharp D, Simon BK (2002) AusGrass: Grasses of Australia. CD-ROM, Version 1.0., Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra, and Environmental Protection Agency, Queensland.

[16] Walsh NG, Entwisle TJ (1994 - 1999) Flora of Victoria. Volume 2 - 4, Inkata Press, Melbourne.

[17] Cunningham GM, Mulham WE, Milthorpe PL, Leigh JH (1992) Plants of western New South Wales. Inkata Press, Port Melbourne, Victoria.

[18] Mitchell A, Wilcox D (1994) Arid shrubland plants of Western Australia. University of Western Australia Press, Perth.

[33] Waters C (2003) Developing Seed Provenance Zones for Australian Native Grasses. (Online Resource) http://www.ndsp.gov.au/library/scripts/objectifyMedia.aspx?file=pdf/38/30.pdf&siteID=5&str_title=Pursl2003_2_pp_Waters_Cathy.pdf (Accessed: February 2008).

[34] Waters CM (2001) Guiding the delimitation of local provenance for Australian native grasses. In: Second National Conference of the Native Grasses Association. Stipa Native Grasses Association Inc., NSW. (Online Resource) http://www.regional.org.au/au/stipa/papers/stipa2001-09.htm (Accessed: July 2007)

[38] Mitchell M, Miller M (1990) The identification of some common native grasses in Victoria - a set of compilation notes. Rutherglen Research Institute, Victoria.

[40] Forbes SJ, Cade JW, Lamp CA (2001) Grasses of Temperate Australia - a field guide. Bloomings Books, Melbourne.

[42] Flora of Australia (1982 to 2007) Volumes 2 to 47, CSIRO Publishing and the Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra.

[43] National Herbarium of New South Wales (2008) PlantNET - Flora of New South Wales. (Online resource) http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/floraonline.htm (Accessed: February 2008).

[44] Western Australia Flora Online

[47] Lodge G (2000) Wallaby grass - a domesticated grass. Agfact P2.5.39, NSW Department of Agriculture. (Online resource) http://www.agric.nsw.gov.au/reader/past-varieties/p2539.htm 

[64] Water and Rivers Commission (2003) Revegetating with native grasses in the Avon Catchment. Water Notes WN31, Government of Western Australia, Perth.

[90] Flynn S, Turner RM, Dickie JB (2004) Seed Information Database (Release 7.0, October 2006). (Online database) http://www.kew.org/data/sid/ (Accessed: July 2007).

[93] Bonney N (2003) What Seed Is That? A guide to the identification, collection, germination and establishment of native plant species for central southern Australian landscapes. Neville Bonney, Tantanoola.

[102] Hodgkinson KC, Quinn JA (1978) Environmental and genetic control of reproduction in Danthonia ceaspitosa populations. Australian Journal of Botany. 26 pp. 351-364.

[104] Waters CM., Melville, G.J. and Grice, A.C. (2003). Genotypic variation among sites within eleven Australian native grasses. The Rangeland Journal, 25(1), 70-84.

Internet links

FloraBase Western Australia Flora Online – species description & distribution: http://florabase.calm.wa.gov.au/browse/profile/17950

PlantNet NSW Flora Online – species description &distribution: http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl= sp&name=Austrodanthonia~caespitosa

NSW Agriculture – the domestication of native grass: http://www.agric.nsw.gov.au/reader/past-varieties/p2539.html  

South Australia Flora Online – species description&distribution: http://www.flora.sa.gov.au/cgi-bin/texhtml.cgi?form=speciesfacts&family= Gramineae&genus=Danthonia&species=caespitosa

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