What plant has grass-like leaves and a woody trunk that may be several metres tall? That’s right it’s a Grass Tree. Although some might think a ‘skirt tree’ might be a more appropriate name. These iconic native plants belong in a family that is related to lilies and grasses, and despite the trunk, are not trees.
Most Grass Trees have long slim leaves which can be up to 60cm long. As the old leaves dry out and die they form a thick skirt at the top of the trunk. The trunk itself is made up of dried out leaf bases. In some species, the trunk may be underground.
Grass Trees are very slow growing with some individuals estimated to be over 600 years old. The rate of growth varies between species and of course prevailing weather conditions.
Grass Trees have a flower spike that can be several metres long. Each spike is composed of hundreds of individual tiny flowers, which are usually cream in colour. The nectar in the flowers is highly attractive to insects including butterflies, native stingless bees, wasps and beetles.
Interestingly, the skirt around the trunk of Grass Trees encourages them to catch fire easily. They regenerate quickly after fire and burning often stimulates them to flower and seed.
The skirt of the Grass Tree is also a great hiding spot for animals. Bats, small possums and geckos are known to shelter under there.
There are 28 species of Grass Tree and they can be found over much of Australia. They are, however, only found patchily in the Maranoa region where there are deep sandy soils. Only one species is common in the region, this being the Forest Grass Tree Xanthorrhoea johnsonii. In some places Grass Trees may be very sparse but in others there may be hundreds or even thousands of individuals per hectare.
One of the best spots to see the Grass Tree in this region is along the Grafton Terrace Road, accessed off the Roma-Taroom Road. Here the population is growing a lot more densely than what you would normally see.
Worth noting, is that Grass Trees are protected by law and can’t be removed from the wild without appropriate permits.
If you’d like to learn more about flora species from our expert ecologists, why not come on tour with us? Check out our Tours here. You might even be interested in our 5-day Eco-Science Expedition in April 2019.