Coelorachis rottboellioides

northern cane grass


Coelorachis rottboellioides

(R.Br.) A.Camus. 1922

pronounced: koy-lor-RACK-iss rot-boil-ee-OI-deez

(Poaceae — the grass family)

synonym — Mnesithea rottboellioides

(R.Br.) de Konong & Sosef 1986

pronounced: ness-ih-THE_uh rot-boil-ee-OI-deez

common name: northern cane grass

native 4Coelorachis is from the Greek κοιλος (koilos), hollow, and 'ραχις (rhachis), a spine, ridge; rottboellioides means ‘like Rottboellia’, another grass, that was named for the Danish botanist and physician Christian Friis Rottbøll (1727–1797), a pupil of Linnaeus. The likeness to Rottboellia is in the inflorescence. The synonym is named for Μνησιθεος (Mnésitheos) of Athens, a Greek physician and herbalist who probably lived in the 4th century BC.

This is a robust, erect perennial grass, rhizomatous and tufted, growing between 1 and 3 m tall. The mid-culm nodes are glabrous. The ligule is a hairless or fringed membrane 1 mm long. The leaf blades are 20–50 cm long and 8–20 mm wide. The inflorescences are grouped together, and are terminal and axillary. The spikelets are sunken, in pairs. Not all are fertile. Anthers can be seen protruding from the sides of the spikes. The flowers of this grass are very complex.

There is not normally a great deal of this grass in Picnic Bay. There is quite a large single clump by the side of Yule Street, near the golf course. There are a few seedlings nearby, but these do not seem to be competing well with the extensive stands of Guinea grass. By the steps in the walking track leading down from the road near the Rocky Bay lookout to the back streets of Picnic Bay, there are also some developing clumps that seem to be establishing themselves more successfully, and I wonder whether this may be due to the comparative lack of Guinea grass here, once one leaves the roadside.

In 2005 the work on the Victoria Highway in the Northern Territory, which has been under way for some years to improve its flood immunity and thereby to prevent its closure to freight vehicles and tourists for most of the wet season, included the replacement of the bridge over the Victoria River. For much of its length the river supports dense river-side vegetation that provides the major habitat for a number of threatened species of birds. As part of this habitat, Northern Cane Grass once grew extensively all along the banks of the river, but most of it has been forced out, mainly by over-grazing by cattle and sheep and by burning, and only isolated patches remain. Greening Australia staff have undertaken a project to collect clumps of cane grass, as well as other native species, so that they can be planted in regeneration plots in Katherine, and returned to the Victoria River area once all the road and bridge works are complete. Northern Cane Grass supports the waning population of the purple-crowned fairy-wren (Malurus coronatus coronatus), threatened with extinction because of loss of habitat.


Photographs taken 2010, Picnic Bay
Page last updated 15th November 2018