Flora of the Week -- Switchgrass

Native grasses deserve a place in your garden.  They provide structure, color and habitat for many, many species. Today I would like to introduce you to switchgrass --

panicum virgatum

. We've got a couple different varieties of this wondergrass in our yard--cultivars readily available at nurseries, with fun names like "Shenandoa," "Dallas Blues" and "Heavy Metal." The shortest variety is about three feet tall at maturity, while others stretch to six feet tall. The plant spreads through the roots, forming loose clumps. It does not spread a dozen of its children each year into areas you do not want it, like the invasive and

highly flammable

Chinese Silvergrass,

miscanthus

.  Please click on this link for more reasons you don't want to plant miscanthus. [

First picture, female goldfinch on liatris, with young Dallas Blues in background

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Click on the image for a larger version.

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Deer don't like switchgrass. That's one good reason to like this native. Another is that switchgrass is a larval host for most skippers and satyr butterflies. Its seeds are eaten by many songbirds and these same birds pluck the blades for nesting material. Ground-dwelling birds will nest right in amongst a stand of switchgrass, while others will use it for cover and their own personal hunting grounds. Many of the songbirds suffering population decline are ground-nesting birds--partly through predation, but primarily through a lack of appropriate habitat. A stand of switchgrass or other native grasses will give these songbirds more places to raise their young.

As a design element, switchgrass provides a soft vertical among other perennials or annuals and tremendous winter interest. In this picture from last winter, its easy to see how the blades of the plant provide a roof for smaller creatures under the weight of the snow. While other perennials die back, the structure of switchgrass remains above ground to provide visual interest for us and shelter for smaller animals during the winter months.

Our switchgrass is putting on quite a show right now--particularly Shenandoah, which has red tips. These are plants that put on their best show just as others are running out of steam. The sound of soft brushing of their leaves in the wind is a delight to listen to, if you should be fortunate enough to have some quiet to hear them in--regardless, if you haven't given yourself the gift of some grass--this may be the one you need.

Happy Planting!

Fauna of the Week--American Toad

Fauna of the Week--American Toad

Stars and Crickets