Arid short grass pastures in the Kimberley

Page last updated: Wednesday, 22 May 2019 - 10:13am

There are many different pasture types in the pastoral rangelands in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. We provide this pasture information to be used as a reference for assessing pasture condition, and as a guide for pastoral station staff and others interested in the productivity and maintenance of the pastoral rangelands.

Assessments can be used to monitor the success of management and to set goals for improving rangeland condition.

Arid short grass pastures

These pastures are part of the Kimberley red soil group - not spinifex pastures, and limestone grasses are the identifier grasses. Use the interactive key to pasture condition to help identify pasture type.

Pastoral value

Evidence suggests that many arid short grass pastures are capable of supporting healthy stands of perennial grasses more characteristic of ribbon grass pasture, if spelled to allow recovery. Ribbon grass pasture is a more-resilient and more-productive pasture type than arid short grass pasture.

Pastoral value for arid short grass pasture is moderate, but resilience is low. Though annual grasses, such as limestone grass and Kimberley couch, can provide good feed for livestock early in the year while still green, their bulk is variable. In below-average rainfall years, very little annual grass may be produced.

The small patches of the long-lived perennial grasses supply the bulk of the feed for the rest of the year. Limestone grass and some other robust annual grasses can act as short-lived perennials under optimal conditions (a run of good seasons).


Arid short grass pastures are grasslands dominated by short-lived perennial or annual grasses with scattered eucalypt trees. They occur on level to undulating plains. Soils are variable depth loams (sometimes calcareous) and the surface may be stony. The occurrence of these pastures is often the result of a transition within ribbon grass pastures following sustained overgrazing.

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Pasture condition

Good: Limestone grass is usually dominant when this pasture type is in good condition. Purple nineawn, an intermediate annual grass, may also be common. Plants are robust and vigorous, and bare ground is minimal unless pasture is grazed down (Figure 1).

Some perennial grasses, such as ribbon grass, wire grass, white grass and black speargrass, may be present as sparse, isolated plants or scattered small patches.

Photograph of arid short grass pasture in good condition
Figure 1 Arid short grass pasture in good condition in the Kimberley (photograph taken May 2008).  A There is a dense coverage of limestone grass (a desirable species) and other annual grasses.  B Undesirable species, such as threeawn, are sparse.  C Desirable perennial grasses, such as ribbon grass, may be found; groundcover is optimal for the site.

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Fair: As pasture condition declines from good to fair, intermediate annual grasses, such as bunched kerosene grass, become more common. Limestone grass is still prominent, although the plants are likely to be less vigorous and bare areas may be visible (Figure 2).

Less-palatable perennial species, such as wire grass, white grass and black speargrass, may still persist.

Photograph of arid short grass pasture in fair condition
Figure 2 Arid short grass pasture in fair condition in the Kimberley (photograph taken May 2008).  A The desirable limestone grass is still common, though its vigour and density are reduced; here it makes up about one-third of the stand.  B Intermediate annual grasses, such as Kimberley couch, make up at least one-third of the stand.  C Undesirable species, such as threeawn, are increasing.  D Black speargrass, a less-palatable perennial grass, persists.

Poor: Further decline towards poor condition is signalled by large areas of bare ground and increased presence of unpalatable annual grasses, such as threeawns. Remaining perennial grasses are much reduced in vigour. In areas adjacent to hard spinifex pastures, hard spinifex may colonise the bare areas (Figure 3).

Photograph of arid short grass pasture in poor condition in the Kimberley
Figure 3 Arid short grass pasture in poor condition in the Kimberley (photograph taken May 2008).  A There are large areas of bare ground developing; desirable annual grasses are absent.  B The remaining perennial grasses are isolated and show poor vigour.  C There is an increased presence of rice grass, a coloniser of degraded areas.

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Associated plants

Plants associated with arid short grass pastures in the Kimberley
Common name
(link to DPIRD species page)

Scientific name

(link to FloraBase)

Life form
Desirable species    

Limestone grass

Enneapogon polyphyllus

annual or short-lived perennial

Perennial lovegrasses

Eragrostis spp.


Ribbon grass

Chrysopogon fallax


White grass

Sehima nervosum


Curly spinifex

Triodia bitextura


Intermediate species    

Purple nineawn

Enneapogon purpurascens

annual or short-lived perennial

Kimberley couch

Cynodon convergens


Bunched kerosene grass

Aristida contorta

annual or short-lived perennial

Wire grass, northern Wanderrie grass

Eriachne obtusa


Black speargrass

Heteropogon contortus


Annual sorghum

Sorghum stipoideum


Rice grass

Xerochloa laniflora

annual or short-lived perennial

Undesirable species    

Erect kerosene grass

Aristida holathera


Northern kerosene grass

Aristida hygrometrica


Unequal threeawn, feathertop threeawn

Aristida inaequiglumis


Winged spinifex, lobed spinifex

Triodia intermedia


Limestone spinifex

Triodia wiseana


Contact information

Kath Ryan
+61 (0)8 9166 4015
Matthew Fletcher
+61 (0)8 9166 4019