Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Native "Meadow"

Native grasslands can be very pretty, as landscape architects around the world recognise with the style they call “meadow gardens”.

 Here's a natural example, growing on Tabletop, the distinctive hill which dominates the view from Toowoomba's Picnic Point.

The “meadow” on Tabletop is dominated by kangaroo grass Themeda triandra, one of our most attractive native grasses. At first glance, it appears to be a natural monoculture. Closer examination, however, shows how rich in plant species such grasslands can be.

In Australia, they typically contain up to half a dozen native grass species. I only noticed three there, but there are likely to be others which I missed on my short visit this week.
Our native grasslands are also contain around thirty small wildflower species, in any given place. I didn’t count the ones I saw on Tabletop, but there were certainly plenty of them.

One  was this dwarf cassia, Chamaechrista mimosioides. Like many of the other small herbs that grow among grasses, this is a butterfly host plant.

This little pink pea is a Tephrosia species.

Grasslands also contain other “grassy-looking” plants. Tabletop boasts sedges, Dianella lilies, and saw sedges Gahnia aspera, like this one.

We would love to be able to grow native grasslands, and there have been many attempts, largely inspired by the overseas fashion for meadow gardens.
It has proven to be a rather difficult style to establish in Australia, however, because of the very many, aggressive, introduced grass species that seem to want to get in on the act. The most successful seem to be achieved by people who begin with already established grassland. Otherwise, close planting, and at least three years of careful hand weeding are needed to establish a result like the one nature has created on Tabletop.
Nature probably didn’t do it alone, though. It would have had a little help, over the millennia, from its Aboriginal custodians  who would burn grasslands annually in the winter dry period. I suspect they would also have weeded out any invading trees, like the wattles which have gained a toehold on Toowoomba’s iconic hill.

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