Buffel Grass

Cenchrus ciliaris_flower

Cenchrus ciliaris_sketch

Cenchrus ciliaris_plantCenchrus ciliaris_map

Where did this weed come from and what is it’s impact on other vegetation?

Buffel Grass Cenchrus ciliaris is a native of East Africa, Pakistan, India and Arabia. It was first introduced to Australia accidentally via Afghan camel saddle padding. Wallal, on the northwest coast between Broome and Port Hedland, may have been the first point of entry: between 1870 and 1880.

It is a strong, deep-rooted, perennial grass and proved to be both drought-hardy and able to withstand heavy grazing. Consequently, after the 1914-1918 war, the W.A. Department of Agriculture was actively distributing buffel in the northwest of the state. They were using seed sent from Afghanistan by General Birdwood, former commander of the ANZAC troops at Gallipoli, who was then in charge of British forces in India. In the late 1920s Queenslanders were experimenting with  Buffel Grass and its close relative Birdwood Grass Cenchrus setigerus  in Cloncurry. Buffel is now widely planted in northern Australia as a pasture grass and for controlling soil erosion .

It mustn’t have taken long for buffel  to make its way to Alice Springs, via Afghan camel saddles, because it was present in the early days in a number of their camping spots:  Billygoat Hill and Charles Creek, for example, as well as along the Overland Telegraph Line at Ti Tree Well, Barrow Creek and Tennant Creek.

Deliberate introductions of the grass commenced in 1961 on 31 Central Australian stations ranging from Mongrel Downs in the northwest and Argadargada in the northeast, down to New Crown and Mt Cavanagh in the south. Seeds were also sown in the Alice Springs farm area and at Maggie Springs (Ayers Rock). The seed was a strain of buffel called West Australian Purple. In the 1970s the CSIRO introduced a new strain, called American, which was developed at Texas A.& M. College. This was planted around the airport as part of an extensive dust control program.

Eventhough the initial introduction of buffel to Australia was accidental, it has been enthusiastically embraced by the pastoral industry. It is now one of the most significant sown pasture grasses in northern Australia. However, a conflict of interests exists because it’s impact has not been wholly positive. It has run rampant in riverbanks, run-on areas, drains and moist localities. These are  key habitats in the arid zone. It is an aggressive coloniser, displacing native grasses and sedges. It grows vigorously after rain, adding a significant amount of  inflammable material to the creeks. This can subsequently fuel very hot fires which damage River Red Gums and other trees. Prior to the introduction of buffel, rivers were effective firebreaks but buffel-infested watercourses can now provide a channel for spreading fires rather than limiting them

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