A Short Story About Australia's Native Grasslands
When European settlers first arrived in Australia,
much of the continent was covered by grasslands and
grassy woodlands. Many of the explorers referred to
grasses as the dominant plants in the landscape. They
glowingly reported the richness of the
For thousands of years, the grasslands and grassy
woodlands had been periodically burned, either as the
result of lightning strikes, or by the firestick
farming of native Australians. As a result, shrub and
tree growth was suppressed, and grasses - mostly
tussocky, persistent perennials - flourished.
Since then, altered land-management - land-clearing
for European-style cropping, intensive grazing and
the introduction of ‘improved’ pastures,
and the suppression of fire - has changed these
grasslands. Now, less than 1% of the original
temperate grasslands and grassy woodlands remains
What is a Grassland?
A grassland is a mixture of grasses, bulbs, lilies,
daisies, hardy ferns and small shrubs with pea
flowers. There are few or no trees.
What is a Grassy Woodland?
Grassy woodlands have scattered mature trees as well
as younger trees ‘in waiting’. As well as
the grassland plants, a grassy woodland will have a
selection of scattered larger shrubs.
Why Are Native Grasslands and Grassy Woodlands Important?
Grasslands are complex systems. Above ground, they support diverse and
interdependent plant, insect, bird and animal communities. Underground, vital
soil organisms such as earthworms enhance the infiltration of water. As these
animals and plants break down, they add to the soil's fertility. Plants also
protect the soil surface from erosion.
Across Australia, large areas of our best farming
land are being made unusable by increasing soil
salinity and acidification. If we want to be able to
rehabilitate our degraded soils and water courses, we
need to learn much more about our grassland
communities. In addition, in a world where climate
change is highly likely, grasses - which are very
adaptable plants - are bound to have an important
role in future land management.
More information is available in the
brochures below as well as in our publications available to order.
Brochures available to download
Conserving and Using Native Grasses (pdf
Native Grassy Habitats of the Mount
Lofty Ranges (pdf 999kb)*
* (produced by the
Nature Conservation Society with the support of
Understanding C3 and C4 native grass
species (pdf 181kb)
free Adobe Acrobat Reader (required to view these