Tussock grass

Tussock grasses or bunch grasses are a group of grass species in the family Poaceae. They usually grow as singular plants in clumps, tufts, hummocks, or bunches, rather than forming a sod or lawn, in meadows, grasslands, and prairies. As perennial plants, most species live more than one season. Tussock grasses are often found as forage in pastures and ornamental grasses in gardens.[1][2][3]

Many species have long roots that may reach 2 meters (6.6 ft) or more into the soil, which can aid slope stabilization, erosion control, and soil porosity for precipitation absorption. Also, their roots can reach moisture more deeply than other grasses and annual plants during seasonal or climatic droughts. The plants provide habitat and food for insects (including Lepidoptera), birds, small animals and larger herbivores, and support beneficial soil mycorrhiza. The leaves supply material, such as for basket weaving, for indigenous peoples and contemporary artists.

Tussock and bunch grasses occur in almost any habitat where other grasses are found, including: grasslands, savannas and prairies, wetlands and estuaries, riparian zones, shrublands and scrublands, woodlands and forests, montane and alpine zones, tundra and dunes, and deserts.

Tussock-bunch grasslands, dormant season, in the Falkland Islands in the south Atlantic
Bunch-tussock grasses in the Konza tallgrass prairie

Fire resistance

In western North American wildfires, bunch grasses tend to smolder and not ignite into flames, unlike invasive species of annual grasses that contribute to a fire's spreading.[4]





Larvae of the Geitoneura klugii feed on grasses like slender tussock grass, kangaroo grass, and false brome.
  • Gymnoschoenus sphaerocephalus – button grass
  • Joycea pallida – red anther wallaby grass
  • Poa labillardierei – common tussock-grass
  • Poa sieberiana – grey tussock-grass

New Zealand

  • Chionochloa australis – carpet grass
  • Chionochloa flavescens – snow tussock
  • Chionochloa oreophila – snow-patch grass
  • Chionochloa rubra – red tussock
  • Festuca novaezelandiae – fescue tussock or hard tussock
  • Poa cita – silver tussock
  • Poa colensoi – blue tussock
  • Poa foliosa – muttonbird poa

North America

Bunch grasses:[5]
  • Aristida purpurea – purple three-awn
  • Bouteloua gracilis – blue grama
  • Calamagrostis foliosa – leafy reedgrass (endemic to California)
  • Calamagrostis nutkaensis – Pacific reedgrass
  • Calamagrostis purpurascens – purple reedgrass
  • Danthonia californica – California oatgrass
  • Eriophorum vaginatum – hare's-tail cottongrass
  • Festuca californica – California fescue
  • Festuca idahoensis – Idaho fescue
  • Festuca rubra – red fescue
  • Koeleria macrantha – junegrass
  • Leymus condensatus – giant wildrye
  • Melica californica – California melic
  • Melica imperfecta – smallflower melic
  • Muhlenbergia rigens – deer grass
  • Nassella lepida – foothill needlegrass
  • Nassella pulchra – purple needlegrass (the state grass of California)
  • Poa secunda – pine bluegrass
  • Sporobolus heterolepis – prairie dropseed
  • Sporobolus virginicus – salt couch grass
  • Tripsacum dactyloides – eastern gamagrass

South America

  • Deschampsia cespitosa – tufted hair-grass (up through North America)
  • Nassella trichotoma – serrated tussock (common pasture weed in Australia)
  • Poa flabellata – tussac grass (synonyms: Parodiochloa flabellata, Festuca flabellata, Dactylis caespitosa)
Tussock and various types of flora near Keetmanshoop in Namibia



See also

  • List of Poaceae genera
  • Tussock grassland

Non-Poaceae tussocks

  • Carex appropinquata – fibrous tussock-sedge
  • Carex stricta – tussock sedge
  • Gahnia aspera – rough saw-sedge


  1. R.H. Groves, R.D.B. Whalley "Grass and Grassland Ecology in Australia" in Flora of Australia Volume 43 Poaceae 1: Introduction and Atlas, CSIRO Publishing, Canberra. "Tussock" grass implies a vertical orientation of the grass clump. In North American usage "Bunch grass" is more specific and defines a clumping, non-rhizomatous or non-stoloniferous growth form, vertical to splayed, and usually perennial with a deeper rooting system than other Poacea.
  2. Crampton, Beecher. "Grasses in California. University of California Press. Berkeley. 1974. ISBN 0-520-02507-5. p. 7 Walker, T.W. 1955 "The Ecology of Tussock Grasslands: Discussion" Proc. NZ Ecol. Soc 3:7 "One fifth of New Zealand carries tussock or bunch grass vegetation, more than other steppes, prairies, or grasslands of the world"
  3. Walker, T.W. 1955 "The Ecology of Tussock Grasslands: Discussion" Proc. NZ Ecol. Soc 3:7 "One fifth of New Zealand carries tussock or bunch grass vegetation, more than other steppes, prairies, or grasslands of the world"
  4. Ellsworth and Kauffman, 2010, Native Bunchgrasses Response to Prescribed fire in Ungrazed Grasslands
  5. "California Native Grasslands Association; access date: 6/9/2010". Cnga.org. 2012-07-20. Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2012-12-23.
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