Native Warm Season Grasses of the Georgia Piedmont

Compiled by Elaine Nash

Botanical Name Common Name Size/ Habit Habitat Comments
Agrostis perennans Purple Upland Bent 1-2 ft.; cespitose perennial Mesic to dry; sun to part shade; open forest An occasional grass that comes and goes. delicate seed head; appears in late summer.
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem 4-9 ft.; tightly rhizomatous perennial Mesic; sun Uncommon in the piedmont; not self-fertile, needs nearby big blue seedlings for viable seed.
Andropogon glomeratus Bushy Bluestem 3-5 ft.; cespitose perennial mesic to wet; sun Grows in soils too wet for upland species; decorative seed heads.
Andropogon gyrans Elliott's Bluestem 1-2 ft.; perennial bunch grass Dry to sub-mesic; sun; often in poor soils Seed heads appear later than other bluestems; inflated spathe-coppery & shining in fall.
Schizachyrium scoparium syn. Andropogon scoparium Little Bluestem 1-2 ft.; seed head to 3-4 ft.; perennial bunch grass Dry to sub-mesic; sun Very attractive bright green leaves with wine accents; bluish ecotypes; dark bronze fall color. An excellent grass for showy forbs.
Andropogon ternarius Splitbeard or Silver Bluestem 2-3 ft.; seed head to 4ft.; cespitose perennial Dry to sub mesic; sun; prefers more sandy soil Bluish summer foliage with showy seed heads; culm with rosey "barber-pole" effect.
Andropogon virginicus Broomsedge 2-3 ft.; seed head to 4.5 ft.; cespitose perennial Dry to mesic; sun; often in poor or disturbed soils. Very common old-field grass; bright copper attractive fall color all winter.
Aristida spp. Three-Awn Grass 1-3 ft.; cespitose annual & perennial; Dry, sandy soils; glades A. purpurescens is an attractive perennial; all re-seed readily.
Axonopus fissifolius Carpet Grass stoloniferous; sod-forming culm 8-12 in.; perennial Moist, disturbed areas; sun to part shade. In the past, used as a lawn & pasture grass and is one of the few native sod grasses; potential road right-of-way grass.
Brachyelytrum erectum Bearded Shorthusk 1-2 ft.; seed head to 3 ft.; perennial bunch grass Moist or mesic forests & slopes; shade or some dappled sun. Cool-season grass however not noticeable until seed head is visible in August.
Note: All Chasmanthium species begin growth in late fall/early winter, with growth complete by late spring, however seed heads don't appear until July. They are included with warm season grasses because they are visible in late summer. Commercial seed sources for river oats only.
Chasmanthium latifolium River Oats 2-3 ft; seed head to 3.5 ft.; cespitose perennial (cool season) Mesic; partial to full shade; river bank berms Attractive color & seed head; re-seeds easily; a good choice for stream bank stabilization.
Chasmanthium laxum Slender Spikegrass (Wood Oats) 1-2 ft.; seed head nodding; cespitose perennial (cool-season) Mesic to moist forest; full to partial shade; alluvial areas. Attractive green foliage with a nodding seed head visible in late July.
Chasmanthium sessiliflorum Long-Leaf Spikegrass (Wood Oats) 1-2 ft; erect seed head; cespitose perennial (cool season) Mesic forest grass; shade to partial shade. Common mesic forest grass; good candidate for slope stabilization.
Cinna arundinacea Common Woodreed 4-8 ft; seed head nodding; perennial Mesic to wet forest & low wet habitats; shade to part sun. Mostly associated with stream banks, wetlands & rocky bars in rivers.
Dichanthelium spp. Rosette Grasses 1-2 ft.; most have 3 phases; cespitose evergreen perennial Dry to wet; sun to part shade. Many have spring, autumn & winter leaf phases. About 200 species, a challenging genus. (formerly included in Panicum).
Eragrostis hirsuta Bigtop Lovegrass 1-2 ft.; seed head up to 4.5 ft; cespitose Dry to mesic; sun Weak perennial; sparse foliage; seed dust-like; re-seeds readily.
Eragrostis spectabilis Purple Lovegrass 1-2 ft.; seed head to 4 ft.; tufts; perennial Dry to dry-mesic; sun Seed head is a pinkish-purple delicate panicle that is very showy; short foliage.
Gymnopogon ambiguus Bearded Skeletongrass 1 -2 ft; short stiff leaves; cespitose perennial Dry, sandy soils; sun Not a common grass. A stiff purplish seed head; shallow rooted.
Muhlenbergia capillaris HairAwn Muhly 1-2 ft.; terete or flat leaves; cespitose perennial Dry soils; sun Delicate pinkish seed head; blooms earlier & not as intense as interdune sweetgrass in nursery trade (M. capillaries var. sericea).
Muhlenbergia schreberi Nimbleweed 1-2 ft; rooting at nodes; decumbent Moist/mesic to dry forests; shade to some sun. Widespread in eastern US; seed head very different from M. capillaris.
Panicum anceps Beaked Panic-Grass 3-5 ft.; short rhizome; perennial Mesic soils; sun to part shade. Most common Panicum in the piedmont; excellent erosion control on sunny slopes; coarse appearance.
Panicum rigidulum Redtop Panic-Grass 3-5 ft; rhizomatous perennial wetland obligate; sun Common; eye-catching, delicate, reddish seed head.
Panicum virgatum Switchgrass 4-8 ft; seed head a panicle; short rhizomes; perennial Dry-mesic to wet; sun Naturally occurring wet & dry ecotypes; uncommon in upper piedmont; several ornamental varieties.
Paspalum floridanum Florida Paspalum 4-8 ft.; perennial bunch grass Mesic to dry-mesic; sun Sparse foliage appears late; a bluish variety is striking, P. floridanum var. glabratum<.
Paspalum setaceum var. ciliatifolium Fringeleaf Paspalum 1-2 ft.; erect to spreading; perennial bunch grass Dry, sandy soils; sun One of the smallest of the Paspalums, somewhat resembling crabgrass before culms arise.
Saccharum alopecuroides (Erianthus) Silver Plume Grass 4-8 ft.; silvery seed head; short rhizomes; perennial Dry to mesic; sun to partial shade. An open and forest edge tall showy grass; seed heads may color mauve before becoming silvery white. Nodes on culms have erect hairs.
Saccharum brevibarbe var. contortum (Erianthus) Short-Bearded Plume Grass 4-8 ft.; brown seed head; short rhizomes; perennial Dry to mesic; sun to partial shade. This plume grass has a darker, less fluffy seed head.
Sorghastrum elliottii Slender Indiangrass 2-3 ft.; nodding seed head; perennial bunch grass Dry to Dry-mesic; sun to part shade. Much shorter foliage with a nodding brown-gold seed head. Distinctive ligule and twice-bent awns.
Sorghastrum nutans Yellow Indiangrass 4-8 ft; yellow seed head; short rhizomes; perennial Dry-mesic to mesic; sun Distinctive ligule; green & bluish ecotypes; good seed germination.
Sporobolus clandestinus Rough Dropseed 2-3 ft.; very few leaves; perennial bunch grass Dry-dry mesic; sun Appears late in season.
Tridens flavus Purpletop 2-4 ft.; sparse foliage; perennial bunch grass Dry to mesic; sun Very common grass; attractive purple seed heads.
Tripsacum dactyloides Gamma Grass 4-8 ft.; blooms from June to Oct.; rhizomatous perennial Mesic to wet; sun Large coarse grass with interesting flowers & seed heads; good for drainage swales; circular growth pattern.

References and Sources:

Beginner grass guides: Harrington, H. D. -- How to Identify the Grasses and Grasslike Plants, 1977
Brown, Lauren -- Grasses: An Identification Guide, 1979
Cullina, William -- Native Ferns, Mosses & Grasses, 2008
Other grass guides: Grelen, H. E. and R. H. Hughes -- Common Herbaceous Plants of Southern Forest Range #SO-210 - 1984
Grelen, H. E. and Vinson L Duvall -- Common Plants of Longleaf Pine-Bluestem Range - #RP-SO-23 - 1966
Both the above available on the web.
More advanced keys: Pohl, R. W. -- How to Know the Grasses - 1978
Flora of North America Volume 25 Poaceae, Part 2
Weakley, Alan -- Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, northern Florida and surrounding areas
Yatskievych, George -- Steyermark's Flora of Missouri
Cultural information: Shaw Nature Center, Missouri has an excellent downloadable manual. Go to left hand menu: click Native Landscaping and then Native Landscaping Manual. Click on Chapter One: Reconstructing a Tall Grass Prairie: a seedling guide.

Roundstone Seed Nursery in Kentucky - 9764 Raider Hollow Rd, Upton, KY 42784-9216, Phone: (270) 531-2353

Meadow Makers in Mississippi coastal plain has a PDF catalog that has much useful information.

Rock Spring Farm grows grasses and wildflowers native to southeastern North America. The grasses are ecotype or species grasses for use in habitat restorations. Kurtz, Carl. -- A Practical Guide to Prairie Reconstruction

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Last update:  November 18, 2009