Heteropogon contortus

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Black Spear grass is found across northern Australia in far north Western Australia, Northern Territory, eastern Queensland and as far south as northern New South Wales. It grows where rainfall is between 700 and 1200mm per annum and where there is a marked wet and dry season. Black Spear grass is a typical species of tropical and sub-tropical tall grasslands in Australia growing as an understory in eucalypt woodlands or open forests.


Black Spear grass is a perennial tussock grass that grows up to 1.5m tall. During the growing season the leaves are green to blue-green, but brown off during the dry. The seed heads grow from between the stem and the upper leaves either singly or in pairs from late January. The fertile spikelets have black awns up to 12cm long. When the spikelets are mature, the awns intertwine forming a twisted mass. The seed is usually produced after March.


This species grows on a wide variety of soil types from sandy loams to clay loams. It is less common on heavy clay soils or soils with poor drainage.


  • Light grazing
  • High temperatures
  • A wide variety of soils
  • Drought tolerant


Seed will germinate when temperatures are between 25°C and 30°C.


Black Spear grass is a significant pasture grass in northern Australia. It is less suitable for sheep grazing when seed is being produced because of damage caused by the sharp seeds. Many areas once dominated by Black Spear grass and Kangaroo grass have been heavily grazed with a subsequent increase in annuals and broad leafed weeds. Black Spear grass can be used to regenerate overgrazed pastures and with careful management, the plants may last for many years. It often occurs naturally along with Queensland Bluegrass and provides good grazing for cattle at times when the Bluegrass is less palatable.