Native Plants to Know: Indian grass

Written by Joel Springsteen
    Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Native Plants to Know: Indian grass

The Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem is both the most biodiverse in northern North America and one of the most endangered with 1% or less remaining. It is full of a wide variety of beautiful grass species and yet we industry continue to produce and market primarily nonnative grasses from Europe and Asia which do not contribute ecologically and have the potential to become invasive species. It is both patience trying and heartening to see more of our native grasses very slowly gaining traction in the landscaping industry including beautiful Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Indian grass- Sorghastrum nutansIndian grass- Sorghastrum nutans

Indian grass can be a medium to large plant (3-7') depending on soil fertility and moisture levels and is found in full sun or part shade. It is possible that genetically different ecotypes grow on different sites like these plants growing in wet soil along the Milwaukee River vs plants growing on a dry gravelly railroad in Chicago. To keep plants from flopping over, avoid fertilizing or overwatering and plant them close enough together to lean on each other or other prairie plants during heavy winds and storms.

Indian Grass along a lagoon

Indian Grass close up so you can see the yellow seeds

Indian grass supports dozens of species of grasshoppers and other leaf/stem eating insects which are important sources of protein for birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The seeds are also eaten by birds and small mammals. Indian grass was once an important source of food for bison and elk. I highly recommend this grass for home landscapes that have the space.

Photo Credit: Joel Springsteen
Joel Springsteen

Joel Springsteen

Joel was born and raised in Papua New Guinea. While in middle school, a project to plant a backyard “rainforest" evolved into a full-blown obsession with habitat restoration. Soon after reaching a peak height of 6ft 2in, Joel moved to Milwaukee. He was amazed to discover that most native plants are conspicuously absent from the city and suburbs. He loves restoring native plant/animal communities because it combines history, ecology, and other disciplines. Joel has degrees in linguistics and biology with an emphasis in botany and conservation. He has been a land steward at the UEC since 2006.


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