Plants of
South Australia
Austrostipa eremophila
Desert Spear-grass,
Rusty Spear-grass
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Regional Species Conservation Assessments per IBRA subregion.
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Near threatened
Critically endangered
Data deficient
Coober Pedy
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Botanical art

Kath Alcock paintings: 4

Prior names

Stipa pubescens var. auricoma

Stipa variegata

Stipa fusca

Stipa dura

Stipa eremophila

Common names

Desert Spear-grass

Rusty 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. Eremophila from the Greek 'eremos' meaning desert and 'phileo' meaning to love, referring to the Sandy Desert where the type specimen was collected, though the species is found in woodland, shrubland and mallee from Western Perth to Melbourne.

Distribution and status

Found in the southern part of South Australia, from the Nullarbor to the lower South-east in South Australia, growing in mallee, grassland, shrubland, open forest and woodland on sand, loam or clay. Also found in Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. Native. Common in South Australia. Common in the other states.
Herbarium regions: North Western, Nullarbor, Gairdner-Torrens, Flinders Ranges, Eastern, Eyre Peninsula, Northern Lofty, Murray, Yorke Peninsula, Southern Lofty, South Eastern, Green Adelaide
AVH map: SA distribution map (external link)

Plant description

Tufted perennial grass to 1 m high, with culms unbranched and nodes densely silky (sericeus). Leaves glabrous to finely pubescent with blade mostly tightly inrolled to 30 cm long and 4 mm wide when unrolled. Inflorescence a dense panicle at first, then becoming lax and sparse to 30 cm long, with purplish glumes to 23 mm long, the lower glume to 25 mm long. Flowering between August and November.

Key to this species: awn twice bent with coma; panicle contracted with short open branches; glumes narrow straight; callus long fine straight; lemma with dense shining rufous hairs and conspicuous sparse short-haired patch at the apex (appearing shaven). Fruits are burgandy-orange lemma to 9 mm long, evenly tapered to the base and covered in dense shining orange hairs with a conspicuous bald patch below the apex, which is either glabrous or sparsely covered by much shorter hairs; coma with hairs of similar length to those on the lemma; callus long fine and straight to 4 mm long; awn twice bent to 10 cm long with column pubescent with hairs to 0.4 mm; palea about equal to lemma, with dense silky-hairs along the centre line. Seeds are yellow-brown narrow-ovoid grain to 5 mm long within the lemma. Seed embryo type is lateral.

Seed collection and propagation

Collect seeds between October and January. Use your hands to gently strip the seeds (lemma) off the mature fruiting spike, those that are turning burgandy-orange. 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
5,500 (10.52 g)
5,500 (10.52 g)
Northern Lofty
BGA11,000 (38.14 g)100+7-Sep-2016DJD3409
1-Nov-2017 -18°C
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.
Germination table: