Plants of
South Australia
Aristida contorta
Mulga Grass,
Curly Wire-grass
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Regional Species Conservation Assessments per IBRA subregion.
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Near threatened
Critically endangered
Data deficient
Coober Pedy
Mount Gambier
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Botanical art

Kath Alcock paintings: 3

Prior names

Aristida contorta var. hirsuta

Aristida arenaria var. hirsuta

Aristida arenaria

Common names

Mulga Grass

Curly Wire-grass


Aristida from the Latin 'arista' meaning awned, alluding to the awned lemma. Contorta from the Latin 'contortus' meaning twisted, contorted, referring to the twisted lemma column.

Distribution and status

Found scattered across South Australia except for the South-east and Kangaroo Island, growing on a variety of soils in mulga communities or woodland.  Also found in all mainland states. Native. Common in South Australia. Common in other States.
Herbarium regions: North Western, Lake Eyre, Nullarbor, Gairdner-Torrens, Flinders Ranges, Eastern, Eyre Peninsula, Northern Lofty, Murray, Southern Lofty, Green Adelaide
NRM regions: Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges, Alinytjara Wilurara, Eyre Peninsula, Northern and Yorke, South Australian Arid Lands, South Australian Murray-Darling Basin
AVH map: SA distribution map (external link)

Plant description

Tufted ephemeral or perennial grass to 35 cm tall, with leaf blades filiform, glabrous or hairy, wavy to 8 cm long. Inflorescence a sparse, slender panicle to 8 cm long. Glumes unequal, often purplish, narrow-acuminate, the lower to 14 mm long, the upper to 28 mm long. Lemma convolute, narrow-cylindric, to 7 mm long, glabrous except for short, white callus hairs, surface pale, smooth to minutely granular; column of awn to 25 mm long, articulate on lemma, awn branches purplish, subequal, to 6 cm long. Flowering possible all year depending on rain but mainly between August and December. Fruits are pale brown with three unequal awns much longer than the base. Seed embryo type is lateral.

Seed collection and propagation

Collect seeds between October and March. Use hands to gently strip seeds off the mature seed spike that are turning straw colour. Mature seeds will come off easily. Alternatively, you can break off the whole seed spike. 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. Seed viability can be low.