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.I 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).
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.
In 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.
Can 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.