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FutureStarrA SIndian Grass Sorghastrum Nutans
In this blogpost, we take a closer look at the genus “Sorghastrum,” which is found in North America and around the globe so it should be in your vernal, summer, or fall garden.This is a beautiful grass with a somewhat metallic golden sheen to its flowering parts. It is an important associate in the tallgrass prairies and is relished by livestock. It appears to be favored by occasional flooding and repeated burning and sometimes forms nearly pure stands in the lowlands. Warm-season grass with rich gold-and-purple sprays of flowers and seeds in the fall. (Ontario Native Plants 2002) Conditions Comments: Along with little bluestem, big bluestem and switchgrass, Indian grass is an important species in the tallgrass prairie. The bright yellow flowers contrast attractively with the blue-gray foliage. The grass stays low most of the year and then gets tall before blooming in early autumn. Like little bluestem, Indian grass is best planted en masse or in a wildflower meadow.
Sorghastrum nutans, or Indiangrass, is a perennial, warm-season bunchgrass that can grow to 5 to 7 feet high. Although growth begins in the spring, it makes most of its growth between June and August and remains green until the first frost. Yellow flower panicles extend above the foliage in the late summer and fall. Indiangrass is native to the Southeastern United States, tolerates rocky and clay soil, naturalizes, and has yellow-orange fall color. It was one of the dominant grasses of the tallgrass prairie which once covered large parts of the Midwest. The plant provides excellent cover year round for birds and mammals, seeds are eaten by songbirds and the plant is highly resistant to deer grazing. The plant grows best in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. It tolerates a wide range of soils including heavy clays and does well in poor, dry, infertile soils. However, it does not do well in full shade. Indiangrass tends to open up and/or flop in moist, rich soils. It may naturalize by self-seeding in optimum growing conditions, but you can cut it back to the ground in late winter to early spring just before the new growth appears.It is a hardy plant able to withstand drought, erosion, dry soil, shallow-rocky soil, and air pollution.
Fertile spikelets, whether they are sessile or pedicellate, are 5-8 mm. long (excluding their awns) and lanceoloid in shape; they are typically golden brown during the blooming period. Each fertile spikelet consists of a pair of glumes, a sterile lemma, an awned fertile lemma, and a perfect floret. The glumes are the same length as the spikelet; they are lanceolate, convex along their outer surfaces, longitudinally veined, and somewhat shiny. One glume is covered with silky white hairs, particularly along the lower length of its length, while the other glume is mostly hairless. The sterile and fertile lemmas are 3-6 mm. long, lanceolate, membranous, and enclosed by the glumes. The fertile lemma has a long awn at its tip that is often bent, gently curved, or twisted; this awn is about 12-20 mm. (ï¿½–ï¿½") in length. Each perfect floret has 3 yellow stamens, 2 white plumose stigmas, and an ovary; the stamens are rather large (3-5 mm. long) and showy. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early autumn, lasting about 1-2 weeks for a colony of plants. The florets are cross-pollinated by the wind. At this time, the panicle branches spread outward slightly, while later they become more appressed and ascending. At maturity, the spikelets disarticulate below the glumes, falling to the ground in their entirety. The narrow grains are about 2-2.5 mm. in length. The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous. Several species of grasshoppers feed on the foliage of Indian Grass (see Grasshopper Table); this grass is a preferred host plant of Eritettix simplex (Velvet-striped Grasshopper), Melanoplus confusus (Little Pasture Grasshopper), and Syrbula admirabilis (Handsome Grasshopper). These grasshoppers are an important source of food to many insectivorous songbirds and upland gamebirds. Other insects that feed on Indian Grass include the leafhopper Flexamia reflexa, the Issid planthopper Bruchomorpha extensa, and the caterpillars of Amblyscirtes hegon (Pepper-and-Salt Skipper); see Panzer et al. (2006) and Bouseman et al. (2006). The foliage is also palatable to hoofed mammalian herbivores, including bison and cattle. Because of its height and tendency to remain erect, it provides nesting habitat and protective cover for many kinds of birds, including the Ring-necked Pheasant, Greater Prairie Chicken, Northern Bobwhite, Mourning Dove, and Field Sparrow (see Walkup, 1991; Best, 1978). (Source: www.illinoiswildflowers.info)