Notable Natives: Prairie Dropseed - A Grass with a Fragrance?
By Su Fiske, Inland Bays Garden Center | Special to the Coastal Point Nov 23, 2022
Sporobolus heterolepis or as we commonly know it, Prairie dropseed, does have a fragrance of a hint of coriander, cilantro or some say soap or buttered popcorn(hmm), licorice or even sunflower seeds (I guess we will have to find out for ourselves).
Dropseed is a long-lived perennial clump-forming grass that does not died in the center like other ornamental grasses so does not need to be divided. If you cut it back, you should do so only in the spring, make sure you don’t cut the crown. Sporobolus is 2-3 feet tall and wide from a fibrous root & once established can be drought tolerant. This time of year, the foliage turns a beautiful golden with orange or copper highlights. In the winter it does not get flattened by snow. Since dropseed is a shorter grass, it can be planted towards the front of your gardens or even used as a defining edge along a path. I especially love these grasses in mass for my garden, they have such great textural interest.
You should have native grasses mixed in with your flowering plants to provide natural structures for caterpillars to form their chrysalis or cocoons. Native grasses are good food sources for our songbirds. Birds, such as sparrows, juncos, & indigo buntings, are seed eaters and will forage on the grass seeds. Others, like common yellowthroats, are insect eaters and will happily eat any insects they find hanging out among the native grasses
Prairie dropseed is great as a living mulch (you do know that plants are the new mulch, right?). Native grasses tend to have very deep root systems which bring moisture and nutrients up from deeper underground than our typical yard grasses whose roots often only reach depths of a few inches to a foot. They also tend to grow in clumps or bunches. This supplies an important habitat and nesting material for bumblebees & native bees which will nest at the base of the clumps. They serve as ground nesting birds and small mammals.
Fun Facts – Native Americans (Kiowa of the Great Plains) used the seeds to make flour. The Native Americans (Ojibwa) crushed the dropseed root to apply on wounds sores. It is a host to insects like the Leonard’s skipper, admirable grasshopper, red-tailed leafhopper & the rare Dichagyris reliqua (The relic) moth.
Written by Susu Fiske