Riverside meadows of yesteryear

What did our urban and rural riversides look like before they were urban and rural? A lot of our riversides and creeks are verdant, but fundamentally weed patches. Those that aren’t bulldozed straight with a concrete channel down the middle, or used for illegal rubbish dumping, anyway.DSC_0597I found this narrow alluvial terrace in Ingliston Gorge, part of Werribee Gorge State Park. The meadow of common tussock grass (Poa labilliardieri, aka “Poa lab” ) is what struck me first. Sadly, you don’t often see things like it anymore, in many areas. Plants of Melbourne’s Western Plains (1) lists the Creekline Tussock Grassland community (EVC 654), with this note:

“This community was once widespread in the region and particularly abundant on creek terraces or floodplains and low-lying parts of the basalt plains… This vegetation type has been largely eliminated since European settlement, is virtually unreserved in the Melbourne region, and is very poorly reserved across the state.”

Ingliston Gorge is probably a good example of the “useless land hypothesis”: only those ecosystems too stony, steep or infertile to farm were left to the reserve system. You can see here how stony and steep the gorge is (and how narrow the terrace).

DSC_0603 Tussock grass is a fairly tall, dominating grass, so one might expect it to crowd out a lot of competition. Spiny Mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia) is up to the competition, judging by this lone specimen which appears to be doing fantastically.

DSC_0602The soft blue-grey tones and glaucous yet red-tinged stalks of Scented groundsel (Senecio odoratus) also are well represented between the tussocks.

DSC_0607In the dead of winter, little sun was making its way to the bottom of the gorge, and the soil was moist despite the dry weather this year. Smaller grasses and forbs like a Sheep’s Burr (Acaena species) were still evident between the tussocks. Perhaps with spring’s arrival, winter-dormant plants will raise their stalks above the soil once more.

DSC_0599Can we restore something like this elsewhere? It would be nice to try. At least there’s some remnants for reference, that are protected from stock trampling and developers’ bulldozers (and rampant weed invasion). You can never regain what’s lost if you don’t know what it was.

And the sun still finds its way through, here and there.

DSC_0604

(1) Plants of Melbourne’s Western Plains: A gardener’s guide to the original flora (2nd edition). Australian Plants Society – Keilor Plains Group, 2012.

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2 thoughts on “Riverside meadows of yesteryear

  1. We have been re vegetating a seasonal creek that runs through our small property near Numurkah. One of our problems is the weed washed in with spring flushes, esp couch grass . I love the senecio sp. as I watch smaller birds feeding on it quite often. In fact after many years of thinking it a bit weedy I now encourage it in our more formal but still native garden beds around our home , once again as a bird attractor .

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    1. Thanks for the tale. I read a somewhat depressing story about the landcare group who patiently weeded a rainforest island in the river at Bellingen for years, using no chemicals, pure Bradley method; won a prize for their work; then floods came and it was basically back to square one!

      There are weedy (including introduced) Senecio species, but this one is native to our region so pretty sure it’s not a weed in this situation.

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