Rough spear grass – Austrostipa scabra

Rough spear grass (Austrostipa scabra) photographed by Harry Rose
Rough spear grass (Austrostipa scabra) photographed by Harry RoseHorses grazing on Australian native rough spear grass (Austrostipa scabra)Distribution map of rough spear grass (Austrostipa scabra)Rough spear grass (Austrostipa scabra)




Austrostipa scabra – Spear grasses are found in all states of Australia, but predominantly in the southern half of the continent. There are many species, each of which has different characteristics, but all are well known as having a high tolerance to drought, poor soils and high temperature. The Spear grasses grow in association with dry eucalpyt forest, woodlands, shrublands, in low open forests, grasslands and along coastlines. These grasses often occur in shallow soils of low fertility in areas of high summer temperatures. They are able to survive and remain green even under dry, hot summer conditions.

– Spear grasses are very useful landscaping plants and Stipa scabra makes great horse pasture although it should be noted that grazing should be done after seeds have dropped as the seeds can be fairly sharp.
– The long panicles will usually remain upright and attractive for some months, even after the seeds have fallen.
– Spear grasses can also be used for revegetation as they are very hardy on poor sites and are able to survive harsh conditions.

Spear grasses grow on a wide range of soil types. They will grow on poor soils as well as soils with high acidity. For example Rough Spear grass grows across many soil types while Foxtail Spear grass grows on all types as long as there is adequate drainage. Tall Spear grass prefers loam soils of moderate to low pH.

Sow the seeds 5-10 mm below the soil surface when moisture is available. Spear grass is best sown in autumn or winter. In the cooler months, germination can take from 6–8 weeks, but in the warmer months it may be 7–10 days. Keep the soil moist, but not waterlogged for three weeks after sowing. Seed can be sown with or without awns. Seed sown with awns is able to move when watered and to find a niche for its own burial. It is however, much more difficult to sow and usually requires hand sowing. Seed without awns is easier to sow, but requires sowing into a groove or shallow trench.


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  1. :

    As cereal and sheep farmers and horse owners on the West Coast of South Australia with an average rainfall of only 300mm we have reaped the benefits of utilizing native pastures. In times of drought and when cropping paddocks are no longer available to stock, our native spear and wallaby pastures have been an integral part of our farming enterprise to carry our stock numbers through. We have found although our sheep and lambs respond well to cereal cropped paddocks and put on the most growing mass, our native pasture has helped keep and maintain their condition. Although we would not like to farm solely on native pasture we would not like to farm without it either – both pastures compliment the farm that we run.

    Also as a horse owner native grass pasture has been very beneficial to the health and lifestyle of my horses that live out 24/7 except when excess feed requires them to be stabled or strip grazed. As most exotic grasses are too high in sugar for my quarter horse x Appaloosa breed horses, native spear and wallaby grasses grass has given us an advantage, we don’t fed cereal hay unless its’s needed or only at the end of summer when pasture declines. Spear grass responds to rain all year round, giving green growth even in the summer after a rainfall event, so at times sheep and horses can get a green pick all year round. It’s also great summertime pasture when its’s dried off- its like hay out in the paddock-and is very persistent even after heavy grazing.
    The only disadvantage with native grass pasture is the growth rate, which can be slightly slow at times. I have found that rotation of paddocks works extremely well, given I have about 15 acres in which are fenced into 3
    permanent paddocks I run my two horses together and each paddock needs a growing season to revegetate, so I leave the paddock till the plants seed and finish off and then its summer grazed. Also in spring seed set can be an issue, as the seed head can be very damaging to stock and horses, so during that time its best to locate stock and horses to paddocks that don’t consist of spear grass. Wallaby grass is not a problem as the seed head is not barbed like the spear grass. I find that’s its best to leave native grass set seed without disturbance so that a seed bank can be achieved for the following year giving better ground coverage.

    I would finally like to say that I believe that native grass really is a great asset to have, especially for horses. I enjoy the fact that my horses can eat a diet that is very similar to what their digestive systems have been designed for, horses are less likely to suffer from sugar induced laminitis and other diet related problems that are associated with domestic horses.

    Andriana Nielsen

    • :

      Thanks for your interesting and comprehensive testimonial on native grass pastures. I hope others find it valuable comment.

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