An awn typology for Australian native grasses (Poaceae) Academic Article uri icon


  • Australia has a large diversity of native grasses. The diaspores of many species possess awns that vary considerably in their number and shape. Some variations of awn shape have been found to be effective at diaspore dispersal. Although morphological descriptions of awns exist for most native grass species, the number of species that possess awns and the extent of awn variation is unknown. This makes it difficult to determine the evolutionary importance of awns and the potential function of the various morphologies. The aim of this study was to construct an awn typology based on morphological descriptions collated from published flora databases that will quantify the awn type diversity of all native grass species in Australia, and will inform awn type relationships and help to clarify the role of differing awn morphologies in diaspore dispersal. We found that 42.1% of 1000 Australian native grasses with a single awn type were determined to have a ‘significant’ awn. These could be classified into one of 20 awn types, the most common being (1) single, apical, geniculate (once-sharply bent) awns (93 species; 28 genera, especially Iseilema), (2) three, apically-attached, straight awns (59 species, mainly Aristida) and (3) single, apical, bigeniculate (twice-sharply bent) awns (46 species, mainly Austrostipa). Among Australian grasses, slightly (though significantly) more C3 species (49.2%) had awns than C4 species (39.9%), although the most common awn types in both contained sharply bent awns (bigeniculate and geniculate respectively). Our classification system will help to improve our understanding of the amount of awn morphological variation in Australian grasses and will enable further investigation into the important ecological role of awns in species fitness.

publication date

  • 2019