It’s said that the one thing which has prevented Australian deserts from becoming bare expanses of shifting sand as in the Sahara is spinifex.
Strangely, what is almost always referred to as “spinifex” is not true spinifex, but triodia grass, a plant which thrives in poor, arid soil, has long pointed “leaves”, and roots which go down about three metres.
We’ll follow the crowd, and refer to it as “spinifex”.
Some 22% of Australia is dominated by spinifex. Aborigines have used it to make seed cakes, and for building shelters and fish traps. They could extract a resin from it which was used in spear making. Because it is highly flammable, it can be used for getting a fire started, and the black smoke it creates is good for making smoke signals.
Spinifex is a tussock-forming plant. The centre of a large tussock will often die out, leaving a ring formation.
Driving through spinifex is a hazardous activity. The long thin “leaves” get caught in areas under the vehicle like the sump guard, and when there’s enough of them packed together, their flammable nature together with a bit of grease and hot metal cause spontaneous combustion, and suddenly you realise you have a fire under your car. Even if you have an extinguisher, getting under the car with it is not recommended. A better strategy is to grab any vital possessions from the car (such as a sat phone or an emergency beacon), get well clear, and start thinking about the good times you had in that car before it got burnt out. A much better alternative is to make regular checks under the vehicle and remove any spinifex that’s been caught there.