Glory in the grasses

Wed. Aug. 19, 2020

Click below to listen to my 2 min. Garden Bite radio show: Glory in the grasses

As we head toward Fall, one of my favorite seasons, the native grasses really start to show off!  There IS Glory in the Grasses!

‘Big Bluestem’ is a grass and a true prairie plant.  It’s long stems are nearly 7 feet tall and sway beautifully in the wind.

Big Bluestem by prairie moon

Several flower spike at the tops of the stem are covered with pairs of tiny flower clusters.  If you separate the stalks out, you can see why one of the common names for this plant is turkey foot the stalks look similar.  The roots of big bluestem may grow ten feet or more deep in the prairies!  There are a few cultivars of this grass.  A couple of popular ones are ‘Red October’ and ‘Windwalker’.

Big Bluestem ‘Red October’ by Bold Outdoors

‘Hairy Grama’ sounds like it could be rude, but it’s not it’s a side oats grama grass whose flowers, growing only on one side, look like fuzzy caterpillars crawling on top of the stalk.  You might find this guy in rocky or sandy places.  It’s really quite cute growing to only about 10 inches or so.

Hairy grama by San Antonio River Authority

‘Little Bluestem’ is a very popular native grass.  Little Bluestem is an excellent plant for wildlife. The caterpillars of several skippers feed on the foliage

Little bluestem flowering photo from Panayoti Kelaidis

including Dusted Skipper, Cobweb SkipperOttoe SkipperIndian SkipperSwarthy Skipper, and the Crossline Skipper. Other insects that feed on Little Bluestem include grasshoppers, Prairie Walkingsticks, the leaf-mining beetles, thrips, spittlebugs, and leafhoppers. The seeds of this grass are eaten by songbirds, and the foliage is eaten by a number of mammals.

Frankly, the seeds of MANY grasses are eaten by songbirds as well as mammals.  Bonus!

There are several cultivars, one most notably was created in Minnesota, ‘Blue Heaven’.  To be honest, mine has not thrived like I’d hoped, the picture below isn’t mine.   (can’t remember where I got this photo!)

Little bluestem ‘Blue Heaven’
Karl Forester reed grass in background with Switchgrass in the fore

I love the view from my porch! The switchgrass flowers later than the reed grass in the background. So, when sitting on the porch I get a lovely view of the reed grass and then the switchgrass, which grows taller, flowers with a more “airy” look!