Lomandra leucocephala

Woolly Mat-rush, Irongrass

Family: Asparagaceae

A clumping grass-like plant with leaves emerging from one or multiple sub-clumps from a contracted rhizome. This tough little plant is known as Woolly Mat-rush for the hairs which are prominent on the leaf margins. It is also known as Irongrass, due to the toughness of the foliage.

It has a large natural range in NSW, growing from the very south of the North Coast subdivision, through the Hunter and Goulburn River valleys to the western slopes and plains. It extends into all others states except for Tasmania, growing even in central Australia.

It typically grows on sandy soils and sand dunes, in dry sclerophyll woodland and mallee-woodland as well as arid shrublands.

Lomandra are often referred to as “grasses” but they are not. They are a monocotyledonous plant – and are broadly related to plants like Vanilla and Chocolate Lillies (Arthropodium spp.), Fringe Lillies (Thysanotus spp.) and Asparagus spp. (This Editor assists people by advising to consider them a native version of a Clivia or Agapanthus – not too distantly related).

Lomandra spp. have simple and long leaves (“strappy”), usually linear and forming a clump on a contracted rhizome. This species has variable leaves to 60 cm long and 0.25 cm wide (sometimes very narrow), dark to mid green with purple colouring at times, and with undivided (or entire) apices. The leaves also have longitudinal striations and have hairs on the leaf margins; with the leaf sheaths white to orange-brown.

Lomandra spp. have male and female flowers on separate plants (a term called dioecious meaning “two houses”). Flowers have six “tepals” (3 petals and 3 sepals but difficult to tell which are which – a typical “lily” feature).

In this species, the inflorescences are a strong identification feature with male and female flowers produced in similar arrangements of dense globular to cylindrical heads, about 2.5 cm across and up to 6 cm long, cream-coloured and smelling very strongly with scents described as caramel or akin to freesia flowers.

Lomandra spp. produce a capsule. In this species, they are about 5 to 10 mm long, containing a single seed about 5 mm long.

In the garden

Author’s notes: This plant is happily growing in a south eastern NSW garden in a well drained situation in both sun and semi-shade.

It is known to be cultivated. Check with local native nurseries for availability. It prefers a sandy soil with fast drainage for best results. A very nice and interesting plant if established.


Seed can be done readily. Lomandras can also be divided in Autumn with divisions cut back and transplanted. Give adequate water until established.

Other information

Two subspecies are currently recognised in NSW:

  • subsp. leucocephala – with narrower leaves and white leaf sheaths, and globose inflorescences; mainly in the eastern part of the geographic range;
  • subsp. robusta – with wider leaves and orange-brown leaf sheaths, and cylindricla inflorescences; mainly found further west – inland.

Lomandra is a genus of about 50 species, 48 of which are endemic to Australia. Only a few are common in cultivation and more species deserve to be trialled. NSW currently has about 23 species with some species-complexes.

Most Lomandra species can regenerate readily after fire, either from seed or reshooting from the rhizome.

Lomandra – from the Ancient Greek Loma (λῶμα) meaning a hem or fringe or edge/border and andras (άνδρας) meaning “man” or “male” because of the circular border of tissue around the anthers of some species.

leucocephala – from the Greek leucos (λευκός) meaning “white” and cephali (κεφάλι) meaning “head” – referring to the white or cream heads of flowers.

(subsp. robusta) – Latin meaning “robust”

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild.

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Lomandra leucocephala profile page https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Lomandra~leucocephala

North Queensland Plants – Lomandra leucocephala profile page http://www.northqueenslandplants.com/Australian%20Plant%20Families%20A-F/Asparagaceae/Lomandra/Lomandra%20leucocephala.html

Wrigley, J.W. & Fagg, M.I. (2001). Australian Native Plants – Propagation, cultivation and use in landscaping. 4th edition. New Holland Publishers, Pty. Ltd. Australia.


By John Knight. Editing and additional text by Dan Clarke.