This warm-season, clump-forming perennial grass is a slow starter, but by summer’s end, it shoots up to a height of 6 to 8 feet with blue-green foliage and soft, yellowish sprays of seed heads that turn a rich burnt orange in fall. It thrives in full sun and a wide range of moderately well-drained soils, but it tends to flop if soils are overly moist and rich. It tolerates heavy clay and poor, dry, infertile soils and withstands occasional flooding and poor drainage. It grows primarily June through August in clumps that are especially beneficial to ground-feeding birds. It has high winter survival and adaptability across the state of Ohio, maintaining its upright stance and amber hue throughout the winter. In the wild, it benefits from repeated burning. To help maintain its vigor, cut or burn clumps to the ground in late winter or early spring.
Indian grass is one of the workhorses of the tallgrass prairies and, along with little bluestem, big bluestem, and switchgrass, is used for early successional plantings. The four grasses are mixed with herbaceous perennials and shrubs to create this unique habitat, which needs disturbance to be maintained.
Indian grass is easy to identify. Its leaves branch off from 45 to 90 degree angles, and its tall seed heads do not spread out. If still in doubt, pull the leaf away from the stalk and look for two sharp points that look like rabbit or Batman ears.
Native habitats include prairies, open woods, fields, roadsides, and dry slopes. Indian grass is well-suited to mass plantings, rain gardens, water-wise landscapes, cottage gardens, and wildflower meadows. It makes a nice vertical accent plant, and it blends well into naturalized or informal borders. Indian grass reproduces from seed and short rhizomes, which makes it useful for erosion control along roadsides and in very windy areas.
Grows 3-8’ tall and 2-3’ wide.
Grows in full or part sun. Excess shade produces weak stems.
Grows in sandy, loamy, and clay soils. Tolerates flooding, drought, and poor soils.
Flowers appear August-October as condensed panicles 8-12” long with perfect spikelets flanked by 1-2 pedicels. The awns, which are bristle-like structures, are rust colored. Ripe seeds are copper colored.
Erect stems have long, narrow leaf blades up to 24” long and ½” wide.
Host plant to 6 species of skipper larvae, such as pepper and salt skipper, and wheat head armyworm moth. Seeds are favored by small mammals and birds. The plant is used as nesting material by native bees. Indian grass is extremely important in supporting a variety of wildlife, including eastern cottontails, wild turkeys, northern bobwhites, deer, bobolinks, eastern meadowlarks, dickcissels, Henslow’s sparrows, sedge wrens, and northern harriers. Many species of grasshoppers and other insects feed on these prairie grasses, which provides food for open-field songbirds.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
The roots are styptic, and people used to apply a poultice of chewed or grated root to bleeding wounds, sprains, and broken limbs.
Livestock will consume the grass, which is highly nutritious.
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