A few weeks back, we had the good fortune to get advice from some experts from what used to be called the Threatened Species Unit of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. They informed us that the extensive roadside patch of a native grass that is common along the coast and northern tablelands is in fact the largest such patch (of two recorded to date) in the Southern Tablelands. The grass is blady grass, or Imperata cylindrica. It grows to about 50 cm high and has a tough flat leaf blade that stands vertically. In summer it is bright green but in autumn and winter it turns red. It produces a feather seed head a little like a miniature pampas grass. It grows in dense thickets and can be an aggressive coloniser, so it should be just about everywhere that it isn’t too cold. But it has an Achilles heel: it is like sugar cane in being a C4 grass, and like sugar cane it stores sweet sugar in its lower stem at certain times of the year. As a result cattle, on discovering this
tough species with a tasty base, can rapidly graze it to local extinction if the stands are small enough. This probably explains why the Goulburn population spreads along the roadside but rapidly disappears at the fenceline.
We have been advised that this might be an excellent species for the wetlands: it is locally quite rare and will serve to shelter migratory wading birds such as snipe and greenshanks. We were also advised to plant within two weeks of that date, while the blady grass was still dormant. As a result we arrived early one Wednesday to the large clump and removed a small area of plants from the very sizeable colony. Each blady grass plant has very small roots but large runners, so were easy to obtain. We immediately cut two-thirds of the leaf blades to reduce water loss, and wrapped the plants in wet newspaper to transport them.
We then placed the grass in three trial plots: one on top of a rise, one along a slope from well drained to poorly drained, the third at the bottom of a slope near water. We planted them about 50 cm apart and watered them with a Seasol solution to reduce the shock of digging up and replanting. We then mulched them. Additionally, some plants were protected with a red plant guards, while a few others were not trimmed and were allowed to retain their long leaves. Hopefully we will learn which is the better site for blady grass and what treatment is best for this easily obtained species.
And just one final note for the week (or fortnight). There may be plenty of weeds cropping up, but there is much long-lived native material producing its own rewards. Here and there amongst the mulch and bare areas, a few patches of a very small, rather plain looking native plant have arisen. It is Australian Stonecrop, Crassula sieberiana. The photo shows how tiny even a large specimen of this species can be, so it is very easy to overlook.