Chilean needle grass is regarded as one of the worst weeds in Australia and Murrindindi Shire’s property owners need to be vigilant to ensure it is kept in check.
Chilean needle grass usually flowers and sets seed from late September through to November. The flowering seed heads have a distinctive purplish colour and the seeds are very sharp at the point.
Murrindindi Shire Council’s Natural Environment and Climate Change Portfolio Councillor Rebecca Bowles said this tussocky perennial grass has earned its reputation as a ‘Weed of National Significance’ because of its invasiveness, its potential to spread, and its potentially disastrous economic and environmental impacts.
“Originating in South America as its name implies, this grass spreads quickly and can infest both our pasture and native grasslands,” Cr Bowles said.
“Our livestock can’t eat it and it can out-compete the other grass species we need on our land. According to the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage, this grass can decrease farm productivity by as much as 50% during summer and can contaminate farm produce.”
“It can also hurt stock. Chilean needle grass’ long and sharp seed head can corkscrew into fleece or muscle injuring stock and downgrading not only our wool quality, but also the animals’ skins and hides.”
Cr Bowles said one unique feature of the grass is that it also produces seeds along its stem and at the base of the plant – in addition to its panicle seeds (flower heads).
“Seed produced in three sites on the plant means that grazing or slashing alone will not adequately control this plant and an integrated approach which includes some chemical control is more likely to deliver a good result.”
Management options may include a combination of crop rotation, pasture sowing, herbicide control and grazing management.
“Given the weed’s ability to create persistent seed, we need to act quickly to eradicate any small newly-established infestations to stay on top of this weed,” Cr Bowles said.
“Prevention is always better than cure, and because it is so hardy and vigorous, our land holders need to know how to identify the grass early. This is easiest to do when it’s flowering.”
Cr Bowles said it was important to be able to distinguish the introduced Chilean needle grass from the native Austrostipa species (spear grasses).
“This grass needs bare ground to establish itself, so it’s important to ensure we maintain a competitive cover using a perennial pasture on our farmed land.
“If you see this weed in our grasslands, parks, or on our nature strips, please report it to Council,” added Cr Bowles.
For more information about Chilean Needle Grass, or for assistance with identifying it, please contact Murrindindi Shire Council’s Environment Officer on 5772 0333.