Stony mixed chenopod pastures in the southern rangelands of Western Australia

Page last updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2022 - 9:37am

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Stony mixed chenopod pastures are a group of the many pasture types in the southern pastoral rangelands of Western Australia.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development provides this pasture information as a reference for assessing pasture condition, and as a guide for pastoral station staff and others interested in the productivity and maintenance of the pastoral rangelands.

Pastoral potential – moderate

Stony mixed chenopod pastures are of moderate pastoral value when in good condition. The amount of available forage is low compared to highly productive pasture types such as saltbush and bluebush. However, these pastures are more productive than acacia-cassia short grass forb pastures and will be preferentially grazed where they occur together. They are generally degraded and pastoral value is often well below potential. Where stock water has not been provided, they are under-utilised.

Suggested levels of use (per annum)

Table 1 provides a rough guide to the range of pastoral values for good condition pastures, which must be checked against conditions in each region and paddock. Carrying capacities for fair condition pastures might be 75% to 50% of good, and poor condition pastures less than 50% of good.

See Introduction to pastures in the southern rangelands of Western Australia for an explanation of how carrying capacities are estimated.

Table 1 Estimated average annual carrying capacity for stony mixed chenopod pastures in good condition
Condition Carrying capacity
Carrying capacity
ha/CU2 (ha/AE3)
Good 15–19.9 105–139 (126–167)

1 DSE is based on the feed energy required to maintain a 45 kilogram liveweight Merino wether with zero weight change, no wool growth additional to that included in maintenance, and walking 7 km/day. 1 DSE has an energy requirement of approximately 8.7 MJ ME/day.
2 CU in the southern rangelands is based on a 400 kg steer at maintenance and equivalent to 7 DSE.
3 AE is based on the feed energy to maintain a 450 kg Bos taurus steer 2.25 years of age, walking 7 kilometers each day. 1 AE has an energy requirement of approximately 73 MJ ME/day and equivalent to 8.4 DSE.


These pastures may support continuous grazing at a conservative level when in good condition. Spelling occasionally for three to six months after rainfall is recommended to maintain good pasture condition. Spelling over a number of consecutive growing seasons is recommended to allow recovery of pastures in poor condition.

These pastures are generally not susceptible to erosion because of soil protection afforded by the stony mantle.

Pasture condition

Survey data show that the condition of stony mixed chenopod pastures in the southern rangelands is about a third each of good, fair and poor condition.


See Figure 1. Indicated by the presence and density of desirable low shrubs concentrated around the bases of larger shrubs and trees, and persisting elsewhere. Ruby saltbush, bluebushes and tall saltbush are common desirable indicator low shrubs and juveniles of these plants should be present. Undesirable shrubs such as bardie bush and wait-a-while are often present at very low densities.


See Figure 2. Indicated by a loss of desirable species from open areas, but these are still reasonably common under larger shrubs. Ruby saltbush and other sensitive desirable plants occur only as old, heavily grazed individuals. Less palatable species, particularly three-winged bluebush and royal poverty bush, can be expected to increase. The undesirable species such as bardie bush, wait-a-while and grey cassia may occur more frequently as seedlings and young plants increase.


See Figure 3. Declining cover and density of desirable low shrubs indicate a change from fair to poor condition. Desirable plants are often absent. Intermediate species such as pink-seeded bluebush may be grazed and decline in number. Undesirable species such as grey cassia and bardie bush may increase.

In general, the total PFC remains fairly constant with a decline to poor condition. The removal of desirables may not drastically reduce foliar cover as many grow beneath the canopy of taller shrubs which have remained intact. Increases in the density and size of undesirables will also be compensating for the decline in desirables.

Stony mixed chenopod pastures condition photographs

Photograph of a scattered stony mixed chenopod community in good condition
Figure 1 A scattered stony mixed chenopod community in good condition. There are a number of desirable low shrubs around the bases of larger shrubs and trees and persisting in the spaces between. Desirable bluebushes, ruby saltbush and tall saltbush are present and there is a mix of age classes in the stand. The site is a stony plain in the Sherwood land system.
Photograph of a stony mixed chenopod community in fair condition
Figure 2 A stony mixed chenopod community in fair condition. Palatable sago bush, golden bluebush and frankenias are present but density is reduced compared with good condition. Unpalatable needlebush is increasing. Bare areas have increased. Soil erosion is beginning to occur. The site is a stony plain in the Sherwood land system.
Photograph of a stony mixed chenopod community in poor condition
Figure 3 A stony mixed chenopod community in poor condition. Hardy sago bush is still present with reduced density. Overall shrub density and diversity are reduced, and the more sensitive palatable plants are at very low density. Unpalatable needlebush is present. Sheet erosion is stripping away topsoil and run-off is increased. The site is a stony plain in the Sherwood land system.

Vegetation structure and composition

Stony mixed chenopod pastures are very scattered tall to low shrubland with projected foliar cover (PFC) of 5–10%. PFC may reach 20%, subject to annual rainfall, the position within the landscape and soil depth.

The upper stratum is generally sparse and may include wait-a-while, mulga, snakewood and bardie bush.

The ground layer supports a diverse range of perennial shrubs, many of which are halophytic. They may include sago bush, three-winged bluebush, grey cassia, ruby saltbush, royal poverty bush, Gascoyne mulla mulla, tall saltbush and others. Low shrub densities are around 25000 per hectare (25 per 10m2). Shrubs are often in clumps concentrated underneath occasional trees or large shrubs with relatively sparse stony areas in the interpatches between. Curly windmill grass is sometimes present among the shrub patches.


1.74Mha, 2.1% of the southern rangelands

Stony mixed chenopod pastures occur on footslopes, stony plains and interfluves with duplex soils of variable depth with moderate to dense surface mantles, and cover an estimated 1.74 million hectares (2.1% of the southern rangelands). The topsoils are sandy or loamy. These pastures frequently occur in a mosaic with acacia-cassia short grass forb pastures and bluebush or saltbush pastures.

Line drawing map of the estimated distribution of stony mixed chenopod pastures
Figure 4 Map of the estimated distribution of stony mixed chenopod pastures

Associated plants

Table Common and important species of stony mixed chenopod pastures.

Common name

Scientific name (links to FloraBase)


Ball leaf bluebush

Maireana glomerifolia


Bladder saltbush

Atriplex vesicaria


Cotton bush

Ptilotus obovatus


Creeping cassia

Senna hamersleyensis


Curly windmill grass

Enteropogon ramosus


Felty leaf bluebush

Maireana tomentosa


Flat leaf bluebush

Maireana planifolia



Frankenia spp.


Gascoyne bluebush

Maireana polypterygia


Golden bluebush, George's bluebush

Maireana georgei


Horse mulla mulla

Ptilotus schwartzii


Mulga bluebush

Maireana convexa


Pussy bluebush

Maireana melanocoma


Ruby saltbush

Enchylaena tomentosa



Cratystylis subspinescens


Scrambling saltbush

Chenopodium curvispicatum


Shy bluebush

Maireana platycarpa


Silver saltbush

Atriplex bunburyana


Tall saltbush

Rhagodia eremaea


Tall sida

Sida calyxhymenia


Warty-leaf eremophila

Eremophila latrobei


Wilcox bush

Eremophila forrestii


Bardie bush

Acacia synchronicia / A. victoriae



Senna artemisioides subsp. oligophylla


Crinkle leaf cassia

Senna artemisioides subsp. helmsii


Grey cassia, desert cassia

Senna artemisioides subsp. x coriacea



Hakea preissii


Silver poverty bush

Eremophila pterocarpa


Straight leaf cassia, variable cassia

Senna artemisioides subsp. x sturtii


Three-winged bluebush

Maireana triptera



Acacia cuspidifolia


Currant bush

Scaevola spinescens


Pink-seeded bluebush, downy bluebush

Maireana trichoptera


Gascoyne mulla mulla

Ptilotus polakii



Acacia aneura


Royal poverty bush

Eremophila cuneifolia


Sago bush

Maireana pyramidata


Silver cassia, banana-leaf cassia

Senna artemisioides subsp. x artemisioides



Acacia xiphophylla


* D = desirable, U = undesirable, I = intermediate, N = no indicator value

Contact information

Joshua Foster