AUSTRALIAN Desert Shrublands & Grasslands

The surprising color of the plants of the Australian deserts...

Order Poales

Family Poaceae

Triodia spp. 'Spinifex'

The most important and obvious group of plants in the arid areas of Australia are the Spinifex grasses. They are a different genus from the 'true' Spinifex of the coastal areas.  There are over 65 species, many teased out only recently. They are all endemic to Australia. Aboriginal uses of these widespread plants included burning for long range black smoke signals, and the resin was used as glue for spear-making. Recent research has suggested certain species of spinifex can be made into nanofibres used to strengthen rubber products, including condoms. Ouch.

(Millstream, WA)

As the spinifex grass clump grows out, the older inside of the plant may die, leaving a distinctive 'donut ring' shape.

Order Curcubitales

Family Curcurbitaceae

Citrullus colocynthis, 'Colocynthis', 'Bitter Cucumber' (Nalland Station). Introduced from northern Africa & Mediterranean.

Order Fabales

Sub/Family Fabaceae

Swainsona formosa, 'Sturt's Desert Pea', (Kings Park, Western Australia).

Family/Subfamily Mimosaceae

Acacia spp. 'Wattles'

The biggest genus in Australia. In the areas many species of Acacia are often the dominant and most common trees. In the tropical species, what tends to look like the leaves are actually flattened stems called phyllodes, which effectively act like leaves, being photosynthetic. The flowers are mostly yellow, either in balls or spikes. The fruits are brown pods with small black seeds, often with a small yellow or orange fleshy connection.

(Pilbara, W.A.)

Acacia tetragonophylla, 'Dead Finish', 'Kurara'. The phyllodes are long and needle like, running along the branches, and can be quite prickly. Widespread and common in arid habitats across inland Australia, particularly in the west. 

Order Caryophyllales

Family Montiaceae

Calandrinia polyandra, 'Parakeelya'  (Kings Park, Western Australia). Succulent crawling herb. Found in arid areas in most Australian states.

Family Amaranthaceae

This genus contains some 120 species. They are herbs or small shrubs. They usually have pink flowers that hang down like a tail, and thus are often nicknamed pussycat, lambs or fox 'tails'. One of the Aboriginal names that has stuck is 'Mulla Mullaa'. They are a common and diverse group within arid habitats across Australia, and are endemic to that continent. They are most diverse in the Pilbara region.

(Pilbara, W.A.)

Ptilotus obovatus, 'Cotton Bush', 'Smoke Bush', 'Silver Mulla Mulla'. Herb. Light dull green leaves that can be hairy. Heads of pink flowers. Found across arid parts of Australia.

Tecticornia sp. 'Samphires'

Except for one species, the 'Samphires' are found only in Australia. They are small shrubs. Their leaves and stems have a jointed segmented appearance and are fleshy. These plants are found in and adapted to high salt situations, such as the edge of mangroves, mudflats, saline and dry lakes, and deserts.

Tecticornia sp. 'Samphire' (Lake King, Western Australia).

Order Lamiales

Family Scrophulariaceae

Eremophila sp. 'Emu Bushes', 'Poverty Bushes'

The flowers of some Eremophilas have colourful petals to attract pollinators, which then droop, fade and then fall off, to reveal a different but equally colourful set of sepals to attract seed dispersers...  

Eremophila cuneifoli, 'Pinyuru', 'Royal Poverty Bush'. Shrub with wedge-shaped leaves, pink sepals and purple flowers. Endemic to northern Western Australia, centred around the Pilbara.

(South of Coober Pedy)
(South Australia)

Eremophila rotundiflora, 'Grey Emu Bush'.  Shrub. Small grey-green flowers mostly clustered towards end of branches. There are usually many hairs, including inside the flowers. Pink tp purple flowers. Grows in arid stony soils. Endemic to Australia, mostly found in South Australia. 

(south of Coober Pedy)

Eremophila glabra, 'Tar Bush'. Shrub, sometimes grows prostate. Red tubular flowers. There are many different looking varieties of this species, which apparently makes it a popular garden plant. Found in arid areas across all mainland states of Australia. 

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