Wanderrie grass pastures in the southern rangelands of Western Australia

Page last updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2022 - 4:13pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

Wanderrie grass pastures are one of the many pasture types in the southern rangelands of Western Australia. Note that cassias are in the genus Senna.

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

Wanderrie grass pastures typically have moderate pastoral value. The density of palatable species varies depending upon fire and grazing history. They are capable of carrying stock on a year-long basis with adequate waters and conservative stocking rates.

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 Wanderrie grass 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.

Managing Wanderrie grass pastures in the southern rangelands

These pastures generally have low to moderate value as a reserve in poor seasons, due to the low density of palatable low shrubs and the relatively short-lived nature of the wanderrie grasses. Stocking rates should be adjusted when annual feed is declining so that perennial plants are not overgrazed. Recovery of wanderrie grasses is much slower than buffel and birdwood grasses following grazing.

Fires in wanderrie grass pastures are patchier than in sandplain pastures. On burnt areas, common low shrubs include cotton bush, flannel bush, tall saltbush, Wilcox bush, cottony saltbush, flat leaf bluebush, ruby saltbush, warty-leaf eremophila, horse mulla mulla, crinkle leaf cassia, fire bush and native poplar. Taller shrubs may include limestone wattle in later stages.

Where perennial grasses are depleted, but palatable shrubs remain, rehabilitation of the pasture can be achieved by resting pastures for six to twelve months after effective summer rains repeatedly until grasses are re-established and recruiting (Wilcox 1960). Longer periods of rest (dependent on seasonal conditions: drier=longer) will be required where desirable shrubs are depleted, to allow re-established and recruiting. Providing rest for these pastures is recommended following prolonged dry periods.

Pasture condition

Survey data show that wanderrie grass pastures in the southern rangelands are predominantly in poor condition, except where a lack of stock water has prevented grazing. Most wanderrie grass pastures have deteriorated to the extent that the perennial grasses have disappeared and have been replaced by windgrass, three-awn wanderrie and annual forbs. Valuable shrub species such as Wilcox bush and tall saltbush have also disappeared with overuse. Cattle appear to affect the shrub component less than sheep; overgrazing by sheep causes the loss of both the palatable perennial grasses and the desirable shrubs.


See Figure 1. Palatable low shrubs such as warty-leaf eremophila, Wilcox bush and tall saltbush are scattered throughout the pasture. Cotton bush and flannel bush are occasionally present at low densities and wanderrie grasses form a sparse to dense ground layer. There is no erosion.


See Figure 2. A small proportion of palatable low shrubs remains and favoured plants may show poor vigour. Undesirable species are uncommon and generally do not increase, however, the less palatable buck wanderrie grass may increase. Erosion is uncommon.


See Figure 3. There are no palatable low shrubs. Annual grasses such as wind grass and three-awn wanderrie and forbs become dominant in poor condition. Erosion is limited to rilling and gullying on the more concentrated flow lines, with sheeting occurring along the edges of the sandbanks near lines of concentrated flow.

Photograph of a Wanderrie grass pasture in good condition
Figure 1 Shows a wanderrie grass community in good condition. It has a mixed age population of grasses with good, even cover. There is a sparse mulga overstorey and few undesirable species. The site is a deep red sand on a level plain in the Yowie land system.
Photograph of Wanderrie grass pasture in fair condition
Figure 2 A mulga wanderrie grassy shrubland community in fair condition. Poverty bushes dominate and woody plants in general are increasing. Silky bluebush has been grazed out and buck wanderrie grass is present. The site is on the mid-slope of a level plain in the Desdemona land system.
Photograph of Wanderrie grass pasture in poor condition
Figure 3 A wanderrie bank shrubland community in poor condition. The understorey is much reduced and mulga is the dominant plant. Bluebushes are absent. Woollybutt grass is present with a few scattered desirable plants, indicating that this community is recovering from fire. The site is on a level plain in the Monk land system.

Vegetation structure and composition

Wanderrie grass pastures generally have scattered projected foliar cover (10–25%), with the grass component of 5–10% cover. Important perennial grasses include palatable broad leaf wanderrie, soft wanderrie and woollybutt grass and the less palatable buck wanderrie grass. Grass density is variable depending on landform, season and grazing pressure.

Wanderrie grass pastures are similar to sandplain acacia pastures and share many equivalent species. Sandplain acacia pastures occur on deep sands, whereas wanderrie grass pastures are generally on sand sheets over hardpan. There is a sparse to dense cover of mulga, witchetty bush and bowgada on the banks and interbanks. Dense stands of low shrubs may be present post-fire or after the acacias senesce.

Annual grasses such as wind grass and three-awn wanderrie grass and forbs occupy inter-tussock spaces in season.


Wanderrie grass pastures occur in the Gascoyne, Murchison and Goldfields, covering about 4.92 million hectares (6.1% of the southern rangelands) (Figure 4). These pastures occur on sandy banks and sand sheets, generally overlying hardpan. They occur on ironstone gravel plains on deep red earths less frequently. Wanderrie banks can be in organised patterns (linear and parallel), or less organised and irregularly shaped as on the gravel plains. The largest areas are in Bullimore, Monk, Yowie, Kalli, Yanganoo, Desdemona and Belele land systems. 

Line drawing map of the estimated distribution of Wanderrie grass pastures
Figure 4  Map of the estimated distribution of Wanderrie grass pastures

Associated plants

Table 1 Common and important species of wanderrie grass pastures

Common name

Scientific name


Broad leaf wanderrie grass

Monachather paradoxus


Cotton bush

Ptilotus obovatus


Currant bush

Scaevola spinescens


Flat leaf bluebush

Maireana planifolia


Golden bluebush, George's bluebush

Maireana georgei


Green cassia

Senna glutinosa subsp. chatelainiana


Horse mulla mulla

Ptilotus schwartzii


Mulga bluebush

Maireana convexa


Native currant

Psydrax suaveolens


Ruby saltbush

Enchylaena tomentosa


Silky bluebush

Maireana villosa


Soft wanderrie grass

Thyridolepis multiculmis


Tall saltbush

Rhagodia eremaea


Tall sida

Sida calyxhymenia


Warty-leaf eremophila

Eremophila latrobei


Wilcox bush

Eremophila forrestii


Woollybutt grass

Eragrostis eriopoda


Crinkle leaf cassia

Senna artemisioides subsp. helmsii



Hakea preissii


Sandbank poverty bush

Eremophila margarethae


Tomato bush

Solanum orbiculatum


Bowgada, wanyu, horse mulga

Acacia ramulosa


Buck wanderrie grass

Eriachne helmsii



Acacia tetragonophylla


Gidgee, yalardy

Acacia pruinocarpa 1


Flannel bush

Solanum lasiophyllum


Limestone wattle

Acacia sclerosperma



Acacia aneura


Mulga broombush

Teucrium teucriiflorum


Cottony saltbush

Chenopodium gaudichaudianum


Showy poverty bush

Eremophila spectabilis


Spreading gidgee

Acacia subtessarogona 2


Thin-leaved poverty bush

Eremophila granitica


Turpentine bush

Eremophila clarkei


Witchetty bush, granite wattle

Acacia kempeana


Creeping wanderrie grass

Eragrostis lanipes


Shark Bay poverty bush

Eremophila maitlandii


Native poplar

Codonocarpus cotinifolius



Gyrostemon ramulosus


Three-awned wanderrie grass

Eriachne aristidea


Wind grass

Aristida contorta


1 North-east only; 2 West only
* D = desirable, U = undesirable, I = intermediate, N = no indicator value

Other resources

  • Wilcox, DG (1960) ‘The grazing of Wanderrie grass associations,’ Journal of the Department of Agriculture, Western Australia, series 4: vol. 1: no. 6, article 4.

Contact information

Joshua Foster