creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Schizachyrium scoparium

When we think of wildflowers, we often picture flowering perennials in meadows or a natural landscape. For this month's Wildflower Wednesday post, I am deviating from this traditional view and focusing on another important player in a meadowscape, grasses. One of my favorite meadow and landscape grasses is little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). A trademark plant of the tall grass prairies, this native, warm season, perennial grass is found across the United States (except Nevada and Oregon) and the lower provinces of Canada. You can view the map at USDA NRCS site and zoom in on your county to find even more specific data. 

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In its native habitat, little bluestem typically occurs on dry upland sites, especially along ridges, hilltops and steep slopes, where it gets lots of sun. It is well adapted to a wide range of soils from sandy to clay. Its dense root system, which reaches five to eight feet deep, not only helps restore the soil, but is also helpful in erosion control. 

Little blue stem is a versatile grass for home gardens. Use it as a specimen plant in the landscape, in a container (thriller), in a mass planting or a meadow. Just be sure to show off its fabulous color, which ranges from silvery green and blue tones in spring and early summer, to reds and bronze in fall.

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Little blue stem pairs well with other flowering perennials. It can be used as a back drop to a whole host of perennial forbs. 

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little blue stem paired with homestead verbena and coreopsis

And it parties well with flowers that grow about 3' tall. Try it with asters, coreopsis, echinacea and/or silphium. One of the lovely characteristics about this grass is the wonderful movement it brings to the garden as it sways in the wind. The clumping habit of this grass also makes it work in a formal or informal style. 

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little blue stem with stone mountain daisy

One of the best native grasses for nesting and roosting habitat for wildlife, little blue stem is a staple in a habitat garden. It is also a significant food source for birds, such as white throated sparrow and quail, but especially those song birds that overwinter in meadows.

It is a larval host plant for several species of skipper butterflies and the common wood-nymph. The dusky skipper butterfly caterpillars overwinter in tube tents above the base of the clumps of this grass. 

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I love that the State of Kansas has a state grass [Georgia does not]. In 2010 their state legislature voted on Schizachyrium scoparium because it occurs in every county in Kansas. On the Kansas Native Plant Society website it states "Kansas is a grassland ecosystem. As a symbol of the prairies of Kansas, a State Grass focuses the attention of Kansans of all ages on the prairie ecosystem. The heritage of the prairies is strong in Kansas, yet many children and adults who live in cities and towns may not be aware of the many ways the grasslands contribute to our quality of life. "

If you are looking to add a little pizzazz to your garden, try this easy to care grass. And be sure to pop over to Clay and Limestone to read about more wildflowers. 

6 comments:

  1. Gorgeous is what I call this grass. I deviate from sharing just traditional wildflowers frequently on WW. So glad you did, too.

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    1. This is such an excellent grass in so many ways. We often don't think about grasses but they really do add something special to the landscape.

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  2. It is so impressive to me how deep the roots of our native grasses get! I have a friend who grows this in mostly shade and it does surprisingly well there, though more floppy. I am learning to appreciate grasses the longer I garden.

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    1. Deep roots is why grassland can be even more effective for carbon capture than forest. Everyone says plant trees ...

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  3. Thank you Karin! I'm introducing more grasses in my garden, and your information is very useful for me!

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  4. Your posts are always so full of interesting information. I’ve seen this grass at the JC Raulston Arboretum and it’s beautiful with its hints of metallic blues and pinks.

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One of my favorite things about blogging is the conversation with readers. Leave a comment and let's get talking. ~Karin