The Benefits of Native Grasses

Native grasses are perennial, and will persist for many years if grazed correctly. They are resistant to both drought, frost tolerant and many are highly palatable and vigorous growers. As they are perennial plants, they can use water that falls at any time of the year, not just through winter. Research shows that native species are equally as good, both in quality and quantity, as any introduced grasses grown under the same conditions.

In SA’s Northern Agricultural Districts, all annual grasses are introduced grasses. Barley grass, rye grass, wild oats, silver grass and brome grasses are readily recognised by most farmers, because they are common annual grasses which compete with cereal crops (which are also annual grasses). All these grasses are common in pastures too, both sown and native, and can cause animal health problems with their seeds. From a pasture management point of view, these annual plants are not desirable. They compete strongly for nutrients and moisture while producing little leaf material, are low in palatability and actively grow for only a few months of
the year.

The value of native pastures is the diversity of the grasses and other plants present.
A native pasture could include winter and summer growing plant species, grasses and broadleafed plants and annual and perennial plants. Unlike ‘improved’ pastures which are generally a monoculture of one species (for example, lucerne) native pastures can have up to 150 species of grasses and plants in them, although commonly grazed native pastures are made up of about 20 native species and up to 10 introduced species.

The species diversity in native pastures reflects the lifecycle and growth habits of the different plants. Native grasses are perennial plants and form tussocks of various sizes. Some of the tussocks are tall and robust, with coarse leaf material, while others are smaller and have finer, softer leaves. Some of the grass tussocks grow during the winter, such as spear grasses or wallaby (bunch) grasses. Others are summer active such as kangaroo grass, windmill grass, Queensland blue grass, panic and brush wire grass.

In among the tussocks there are generally annual plants. In a native grassland which is not grazed, these plants are lilies, daisies and small herbaceous plants. In a heavily grazed native pasture, the palatable native plants have been eaten out and replaced by introduced broadleaved weeds such as Salvation Jane, nutweeds, Geranium or storksbill, Capeweed and annual grasses such as wild oats and brome grasses.