Plants of
South Australia
Austrostipa nitida
Balcarra Grass,
Balcarra Spear-grass
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Regional Species Conservation Assessments per IBRA subregion.
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Botanical art

Kath Alcock paintings: 12

Prior names

Stipa scabra var. pallida

Stipa nitida

Common names

Balcarra Grass

Balcarra Spear-grass


Austrostipa from the Latin 'auster' meaning south and the genus Stipa, referring to the genus being allied to Stipa but restricted to Australia. Nitida from the Latin 'niteo' meaning shining, referring to its spikelets and panicle appearing shining en masse in the sun, or the lemma having a smooth, shiny surface.

Distribution and status

Found in most parts of South Australia growing on sandy loam to clay loam in shrubland, mallee and woodland to desert and Nullarbor. Also found in all mainland states. Native. Common in South Australia. Common in the other states.
Herbarium regions: North Western, Lake Eyre, Nullarbor, Gairdner-Torrens, Flinders Ranges, Eastern, Eyre Peninsula, Northern Lofty, Murray, Yorke Peninsula, Southern Lofty, Kangaroo Island, South Eastern, Green Adelaide
NRM regions: Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, Alinytjara Wilurara, Eyre Peninsula, Kangaroo Island, Northern and Yorke, South Australian Arid Lands, South Australian Murray-Darling Basin, South East
AVH map: SA distribution map (external link)

Plant description

Densely tufted perennial grass to 80 cm high, with erect unbranched culms and glabrous nodes, usually hidden by the sheaths. Leaves glabrous to shortly pubescent, with blade slightly to strongly inrolled, to 30 cm long and 2 mm wide, rather stiff; sheath rather broad and loose, often with a pale marginal stripe to 9 mm wide. Inflorescence a contracted, dense panicle to 40 cm long, the base of the panicle usually concealed by uppermost leaf-sheath; green shining glumes to 13 mm long, soon fading to straw-coloured. Flowering between July and December.

Key to this species: awn falcate (curved bristle at right angle to the column); lemma narrow and needle-like; nodes mostly concealed; leaves basal and cauline (up the stem); often inrolled to appear fine; glumes green and shinin; panicle contracted and dense. Fruits are golden colour linear-elliptic lemma 6 mm long, with a smooth surface and covered in sparse white hairs; callus sharp to 2 mm long; awn falcate to 70 mm long; finely scabrous. Seeds are yellow-brown narrow-ellipsoid grain to 2.5 mm long within the lemma. Seed embryo type is lateral.

Seed collection and propagation

Collect seeds between September and January. Use your hands to gently strip the seeds (lemma) off the mature fruiting spike, those that are turning golden colour. Mature seeds will come off easily compare to the immature seeds that remain on the spike. Alternatively, you can break off the whole fruit spike to allow some of the seeds to mature further. Place the seeds/spike in a tray and leave to dry for two weeks. No further cleaning is required if only seed collected. If seed spikes collected, use hand to strip off the mature seeds. Store the seeds with a desiccant such as dried silica beads or dry rice, in an air tight container in a cool and dry place. Viability of grass seeds could be very viable, depending on time of seed collections and seasonal conditions.

Seeds stored:
LocationNo. of seeds
(weight grams)
of plants
Collection number
Collection location
% ViabilityStorage
BGA5,700 (6.98 g)50+16-Jun-2010KHB441
Flinders Ranges
Location: BGA — the seeds are stored at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, MSB — the seeds are stored at the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew, England.
Number of plants: This is the number of plants from which the seeds were collected.
Collection location: The Herbarium of South Australia's region name.
% Viability: Percentage of filled healthy seeds determined by a cut test or x-ray.