Australian grassland

Australian grassland

Grasslands are big, fairly flat open spaces that get between 25 and 75 cm of rain per year.  This is less rain than a forest gets and more than a desert gets.

Grasslands are found on every continent except Antarctica. About one quarter of the Earth's land is in the grasslands biome. Grasslands have different names in different countries, such as pampas (South America), prairies (North America), savannahs (Africa),  or steppes (Asia).

African grassland is called savannah ©Getty Images

African grassland is called savannah ©Getty Images

The main plants of a grassland are of course grasses, with a few low shrubs and occasional trees.  In grasslands, trees are more commonly found near rivers and streams. There are many wildflowers that grow in grasslands. Flowering plants grow easily amongst the grassses, generally flowering in spring and summer.  Therefore, when you look out over a grassland, what you see is a fairly flat open, continuous piece of land with lots and lots of grass.  The roots of the grasses and small plants make the soil rich and good for farming.

There are 3 types of grassland:

Tall grasslands have very tall grass, up to 152 cm tall, and up to 80cm of rain a year.

Mixed grasslands have grasses that grow around 60-90 cm high and about 40-60 cm of rain each year.

Short grasslands have short grasses and receive very little rainfall each year, less than 15 cm.

Grasslands around the world are becoming extinct as they are where people make farms and towns because of the flatness and ease of clearing. Therefore, some grasslands plants and animals are becoming endangered.

Tropical grasslands are those closest to the equator. They are hot all year long. Temperate grasslands are those further from the equator, with hot summers and harsh winters.They once stretched across much of North and South America, and they were common in Europe and Asia.   

There are thousands of different types of grasses.

Grasses are plants that are found from the edge of the sea to high up in mountains, and in every continent except Antarctica.  Grass is a very successful plant because it can survive the harshest conditions. Unlike most plants, grasses grow from the base, not the top. Creeping stems above the ground are called stolons, and those below the ground are called rhizomes. As these creeping stems spread out, shoots grow up and produce leaves. The deep, spreading root systems make sure that even in drought, the plants are able to get water. Long narrow leaves like grass do not lose as much water in the heat as big leaves do.  Grass can be cut quite close to the ground, and new leaves (blades of grass) sprout from the base of the plant. This means that grasses can be eaten and walked on by animals and are not killed.

Spinifex

spinifex, Pilbara, Western Australia ©Getty Images

spinifex, Pilbara, Western Australia ©Getty Images

Spinifex is one of many grass species found in the grasslands of Australia. It is a spiny grass that is now often planted to bind sand along the seashore to prevent erosion. Spinifex is also the name given to a group of spiny-leaved, tussock-forming grasses of inland Australia.  One kind of spinifex grass is commonly known as hard spinifex or beach spinifex. It grows about 50 cm tall in clumps called hummocks or tussocks and has thin rigid leaves with a very sharp point. The seedhead goes 30-50cm above the leaves.The hummocks may be up to 2 metres in diameter, sometimes with a dead centre. It grows on sandy red soils and the bases of sand dunes.

Spinifex is perennial, which means it does not have a time when it is dormant or not seen, but grows all the time.  Stock animals such as cattle do not find it tempting to eat,  though they enjoy eating the seed heads.  It is excellent for erosion control. Because new plants grow from creeping shoots from the base of older plants, one plant can eventually spread out and cause a wide area to be covered. It is salt resitant and the salt water spray along beaches does not affect it. Porcupine grass, commonly called spinifex, grows in arid areas of Australia, in places such as the red centre and the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is spiny-leaved and highly inflammable, and flourishes in areas of low rainfall.

spinifex grassland, central Australia ©Getty Images

spinifex grassland, central Australia ©Getty Images

Spinifex grasses normally grow in clumps, or tussocks. In some places, the grass clumps grow in rings, known as hummocks. Spinifex grasses provide the ideal habitat for raptors (birds of prey), such as the Australian hobby, Nankeen kestrel and large spotted harrier, and other birds such as parrots, budgerigars and cockatoos. Small marsupials such as bilbies and the Pilbara ningaui shelter amongst the tussocks.

Spinifex species are well adapted to fire. Wildfires are started by lightning strikes, and Aboriginal people have traditionally used fire in spinifex grasslands for a number of purposes. Many species of spinifex are full of a kind of sap called resin which drips downthe stems and leaves on hot days. Large lumps of resin are often seen at the bases of hummocks which have burned.    The Aboriginal people used the resin as a strong glue when making their axes and spearheads.

Grasslands Animals

Lions don't live in the jungle - they live in grasslands! ©Getty Images

Lions don't live in the jungle - they live in grasslands! ©Getty Images

Many animals live in grasslands, different animals in different countries.  Some of them are very small such as mice, prairie dogs, snakes, lizards and insects. These animals can hide easily in the grasses. There are also large grasslands animals such as elephants, lions, zebra, giraffes, cheetah and rhinoceros in Africa, bison in North America, kangaroos in Australia. These animals are too large to hide in the grasses, so they must protect themselves in other ways, such as by speed or camouflage.  Some, like African elephants, giraffes and rhinos, are so large that predators cannot easily attack a healthy adult.  

Many grasslands animals live in large groups, often called herds. Living in groups means that there is protection from predators for the weaker members. There are more eyes to spot danger, and strong members surround weaker ones.

Grasslands in North America are called prairies ©Getty Images

Grasslands in North America are called prairies ©Getty Images

Read the kidcyber pages about some animals that live on different grasslands of the world: