Grasses, Gardening and Granivores

Em Bowman from STEM generously provides us with simple, informative and well-researched guides on how to garden for our birds. You can find her at


Grasses are one of the easiest plants to grow in the garden and they also have many other valuable qualities when used appropriately. They can be used as an ornamental feature in the garden, provide that perfect display of soft, wispy foliage, a lawn, and as habitat and food source to a variety of local wildlife. You may have seen flocks of Cockatoos, Galahs and Corellas foraging around on the local footy field, noticed insects on grass seed heads, or spotted a quick scuttle of a skink darting at your feet into some large clumps of grass. Whatever your use of grass is or any plant for that matter you can still have that ornamental piece but by choosing certain species you can also know you are being responsible to the environment and supporting local wildlife.

There are many common misconceptions with grasses that we need to remember. One is that you need exotic species to create that ideal lawn or as an ornamental element in the garden. This is not true as we have many ornamental grasses and this belief may be because of what we see on the Internet, nursery advice and selection, trending styles in publications and unfamiliarity with native and indigenous plants. Another is the use of native varieties will not become weeds. This is not true as many plants have been introduced from different states and have become a weed, like sweet pittosporum.

I like to be very careful when using exotic species when designing. I call it ‘Responsible gardening’, and I think it’s a term many of us should become familiar with. To be responsible is to ensure that the plant is not currently identified as a weed, does not have the potential to become a weed, will not have an impact to local wildlife and if it can pose as a potential weed threat is there a sterile form available? Grasses especially can seed prolifically and if they are not from the local area, it can be quite a tricky one to remove.


So what are some responsible alternatives?

There are many beautiful grasses in Australia. I live in Victoria and some of these plants and similar species would be found in your state too. Feature tufting grasses can be species like Poa labillarierdei, Austrostipa stipoides, Austrostipa scabra, Lomandra, Themeda Trianda, and Rytidosperma pallidum. Lawn alternatives include Microlaena stipoides, Zoysia macrantha and Bothriochloa macra.


How do grasses support Australian biodiversity?

Grasses provide food sources, habitat, nesting material and protection for wildlife. Granivores are species that feed and rely heavily on a seed based diet. Many birds, insects and mammals fit this category and grasses produce a nutritious food source rich in fats and thiamine. Australian parrots and finches love grass seeds and is why you see them on roadsides, parks and open fields. Herbivorous native animals need open grassland when feeding though many have adapted to the exotic pasture grasses used in agriculture.

Lawns and tufting ornamental grasses previously noted provide protection to reptile, mammal and insect species. They like to live in the protective thickets of grass and can feast on the insects they draw in as well. Lawns not only produce seed but also draw in insects allowing small medium and large birds to pick through to find yummy bugs or juicy worms.


We are now nearing spring and there is an increase in nesting activity. Grasses are a very important nesting material to a wide variety of animals including small marsupials, native rodents and birds. Its amusing watching birds in particular pulling out grass and flying off, like crazy feathered wizards.

So if you’re planning on introducing some new plants to your garden, think about how you can be a ‘responsible gardener’. Introduce back some stunning local grasses and the sit back and observe what comes to visit. Have fun experimenting with them, maybe try to create a native lawn and enjoy learning about your local grasses. It’s incredibly rewarding and eye opening when you start to understand your local land ecologies and it’s addictive.

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