Little Blue

File:4th Place - Coyote in Little Bluestem in Red Hills (7469132472).jpg

Coyote in Little Bluestem in Red Hills
by Greg Kramos

“A child said, what is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands; how could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he. I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.”

–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

NCDC USA Drought Map
by Richard Heim

Rain, rain, rain. We’ve had rain on several days the past few months but the Earth is still thirsty! The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released September through December’s Palmer Z drought index numbers and 52% of the upper Midwest, Plains, and Western half of the United States are still experiencing drought conditions. Despite the lack of moisture this season, Little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, a native perennial bunchgrass, thrived.

A plant’s metabolism is partially responsible for its survival during extreme weather conditions. Perennial grasses can be classified as either C3 or C4 plants. Classification as a C3 or C4 plant is determined by the metabolic or biochemical pathway the plant uses to capture carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. While the C3 pathway is present in all grass species, the additional C4 pathway evolved in species adapting to very wet or dry habitats. 

The C3 and C4 metabolic pathways are very different from one another. Each pathway is associated with a plant’s growing requirements. Little bluestem is a warm season, sun-loving, short grass species with preference for mesic to dry growing conditions and a C4 metabolism. Much like the weather of 2012, extremely dry growing conditions were experienced during the Great Drought of the 1930s. In 1932, Weaver and Fitzpatrick noted that Schizachyrium scoparium was more drought tolerant than some other prairie grass species found in the plains of North America. More recently, Hake conducted physiological field studies confirming the species-specific drought tolerance of Little bluestem. 

Little bluestem

Little bluestem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Global climate change has brought about conditions of drought, high temperatures, and increased levels of nitrogen and carbon dioxide providing C4 plants, like Little bluestem, with a distinct advantage over those possessing the C3 metabolic pathway. In spite of its toughness, Little bluestem’s clumped foliage is delicate and beautiful. Slender, erect, blue-green stems or culms appear in August and reach 2-3 ft. tall by September. The alternate, 1/4 inch wide and 10 in. long leaves are located on the lower part of each culm. In late fall, the culms and leaves turn a rusty-red color and are topped with white tufts of shining seeds. 

Spikelet

Spikelet

The tufts of shining white seeds or spikelets form on 1 1/4 to 3 in. stalks or racemes the end of each culm. Several pairs of spikelets occur on opposite sides of the raceme’s central stem. Between the central stem of each spikelet, long white hairs are produced. Two pairs of spikelets are produced; a sessile, fertile spikelet and a sterile spikelet. The fertile spikelet is about 1/4 in. in length and the sterile spikelet is 1/8 in. in length. Each fertile spikelet produces a single elongated grain. The floret’s anthers are brown to reddish brown and the stigmas are pale purple in color. 

Below the ground, Little bluestem possesses a dense and fibrous root system. Reaching 5 to 8 ft. in depth, the predominantly vertical roots provide both erosion control and protection from drought. Little bluestem has a symbiotic relationship with the fungus, arbuscular mycorrhizae, which improves its supply of water and nutrients. In return, Little bluestem transfers 20% of its plant fixed carbon to the fungus. In light of its erosion control and drought tolerance characteristics, Little bluestem is often used in conjunction with other C4 grasses for prairie restorations and revegetation of abandoned cultivated lands. 

Little bluestem in winter

Little bluestem in winter

An adaptable grass, Little bluestem thrives a wide range of soils and tolerates  harsh growing conditions but prefers neutral to slightly basic sites with deep, shallow, sandy, fine-textured and rocky soils that are characteristically medium to dry, well-drained, and infertile. The plant thrives in full sun but will tolerate light shade. Little bluestem readily seeds itself. Caution should be exercised when planting it in small areas with ideal growing conditions since reseeding can result in Little bluestem becoming the dominate species in the garden. 

Growing conditions, including climate and soil type, have an effect on the geographical distribution of a grass. The Little bluestem range extends throughout all of the lower 48 states except Nevada and are most prominent in the Great Plains and open canopy of the eastern United States. More state specific plant locations can be found on the USDA’s Schizachyrium scoparium distribution map. Common throughout Illinois, Little bluestem’s native habitats include hill, gravel, sand, loam, and clay prairies, scrubby barrens, rocky slopes of thinly wooded bluffs, sandy savannas, hilltop glades, dunes, gravel railroad right of ways, and abandoned fields. 

Little bluestem’s vast geographic distribution also plays an important role in various ecosystems throughout North America. It is the food source and/or cover for songbirds, upland game birds, ground birds, mammals, and insects. During the winter in Illinois, Little bluestem seeds are favored by the Field Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Slate-Colored Junco, and other small songbirds. Other Illinois avian inhabitants such as the Prairie Chicken, Sharp Tailed Grouse and the quail use the foliage of Little bluestem as nesting material or cover. The foliage of Little bluestem found in Illinois is quite palatable to bison, cattle, White Tailed Deer, and other mammalian herbivores. Ecologists have identified an invaluable relationship between the Little bluestem and insects. Insects are abundant in prairies, providing an ample food source for others higher up in the food chain, birds in particular. Little bluestem’s leaves are the food source for butterflies, skippers, grasshoppers, spittlebugs, leafhoppers, thrips, and beetles. In Illinois, the native grass provides nutrients for Atrytonopsis hiannaHesperia leonardusHesperia meteaHesperia ottoeHesperia sassacusNastra lherminierPolites origenes, numerous grasshopper species,  Prosapia ignipectusFlexamia delongiLaevicephalus unicoloratusIllinothrips rossi, and Aniostena nigrita.

Commonly found in prairies across North America, the ornamental, native bunchgrass, Little bluestem, plays an important role in ecological restorations. Not only does it provide a food source for many native fauna species, it is also a drought resistant native grass, particularly suited for survival in our changing environment. Weather extremes are the new norm throughout the world. This phenomena seems to be born out in an unseasonably warm and dry year in Illinois. Our winter this year has also been warm and dry. In fact, the 2012 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Climatic Data Center recently stated that the recent year’s weather “…is consistent with what we would expect in a warming world.” Clearly environmental adaptations are necessary for ecosystems to remain sustainable in a warming world. This report will require all gardeners, even native gardeners, and prairie restorationists will need to adapt their plant selections to accommodate the climate change. I plan to do my part to help create a more sustainable landscape by planting a few more Little bluestems in my garden!

Related articles

Resources:

Coucher, T., “Little Bluestem: Schizachyrium scoparium.” Field Guides, eoL: Encyclopedia of Life Learning, Harvard Univerity. N.D. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

Maricle, Brian R. and Adler, Peter B., “Effects on precipitation and photosynthesis and water potential in Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium in a southern mixed grass prairie.” Environmental and Experimental Botany. 16 Mar. 2011 Web. 12 Dec. 2012.

Schizachyrium scoparium (Mich.) Nash.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. University Texas at Austin. N.D. Web. 12 Sep. 2012.

Hake, D. R. etal.,”Water stress of tallgrass prairie plants in central Oklahoma.” J Range Management, Mar. 1984. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.

Hilty, John. “Little Bluestem.” Illinois Wildflowers. N.P. 2002. Web 10 Nov. 2012.

Steinberg, Peter D. ” Schizahyrium scoparium.” Fire Effects Information System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. 2002. Web. 24 Jan. 2013.

” Plants Profile, Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture. 2002. Web. 1 Jun. 2012.

“State of the Climate Drought Annual 2012.” National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Weaver, J. E. and Albertson, F. W., “Effects of the Great Drought on the Prairies of Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas”  Agronomy Faculty Publications. 1 Oct. 1936 Web. 1 Sept. 2012.

Weaver, J. E. and Fitzpatrick, T. J., “Ecology and relative importance of the dominants of the tallgrass prairie.”  Botanical Gazette. 1 Apr. 1932 Web. 1 Oct. 2012.

“What are C3 and C4 native grass Species?” NSW Government, Department of Primary Industries: Agriculture.  N.D. Web 1 Nov. 2012 .

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The Chapa Spirit an Ecosystem Engineer

he was happily sitting back and munching on so...

Image via Wikipedia

Native to North America, the beaver, Castor canadensis, plays an important role in both the formation of our environment and faith formation. The Chapa Spirit, or beaver, is prevalent in Native American legends as the guardian of work and building, food stores, marital fidelity, and domestic tranquility as well as symbolic of the qualities of vigilance, self-sacrifice, and community. Recently, representation of the beaver’s qualities of self-sacrifice and hard work can be seen in the movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is here, in Narnia, that Mr. and Mrs. Beaver take Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan to Aslan in order to fulfill the ancient prophecy, ending the White Witch’s evil, which consequently brings the environment back in sync. The beaver’s selfless actions symbolize a change in both the spiritual and natural environment of Narnia.

Bull Creek Beaver Dam

Here in Bull Creek, our neighbors, the beavers, inhabitants of mixed forest riparian areas, represent positive environmental change. The beavers’ environmental engineering constructs dams, providing a natural creation of wetlands and watersheds. The formation of wetlands and watersheds also provide a means of ground water recharge and purification as well as water table elevation and flood mitigation. Water table elevation and flood reduction are a direct result of increased ground water holding capacity and drainage by the newly, beaver created wetlands and watersheds. The beaver dams also reduce both stream bank erosion and sediment in the adjacent streams and rivers. Less erosion provides a better environment for the fauna by producing a more stable and healthier water supply.

Beaver Fell

These ecosystem engineers and their dams also have a profound affect on the biodiversity and overall quality of an ecosystem through the creation of lakes, ponds, wetlands, and meadows. When beavers build dams, their actions alter the environment by transforming living and nonliving materials from one physical state to another. Beavers change the physical environment by felling softer wood trees species, such as cottonwoods, over harder wood type trees to build their dams. Dam building in streams causes flooding of the surrounding land and the resultant pond formation provides a suitable environment for the beavers to build their lodges. Naturalists consider beavers to be the “key to wildlife abundance” in wetland habitats.

Beaver Lodge on Frozen Pond

As beavers clear the trees along the water’s edge, new habitats are created where grasses, shrubs, and hardier trees flourish providing nesting and breeding grounds favorable to waterfowl. As new habitats are created by the beaver’s selective tree felling the tree species reduction produces both beneficial and non-beneficial effects on the surrounding riparian forest. Despite the possible negative effect on the riparian forest, active beaver ponds create ecosystems with the ability to support a greater variety of birds and naturalists report greater diversity in the populations of insects, amphibians, reptiles, and predatory mammals.

Beavers are nocturnal, herbivorous eating mammals whose diet consists of bark, cambium, tree buds and roots. They have disproportionately large skull and teeth that enable them to gnaw through bark and trees. At a length of three to four feet and a weight of between 30 and 75 pounds, the stocky beaver’s short legs, wide tail, and webbed hind feet enable this primarily, aquatic rodent to maneuver felled trees and swim effortlessly in the ponds or lakes it creates. Adapted for digging and grasping tree limbs, they have strong claws on their front feet. Its fur is a waterproof, glossy red brown color and its broad, flat tail is covered with black scales. Beavers live in a colony of four to eight related individuals with a home range of about 8 acres. They are also monogamous, mating once a year to produce a litter of 3 to five pups in spring from April to June. Habitat suitability is dependent on water and the availability of aspen trees, their preferred food. These large rodents live an average of 6-11 years in wild.

The beaver’s current conservation status differs from source to source; currently, they are not considered an endangered species. That being said, there have been significant threats to the survival of the beaver in their original habitats due to hunting and trapping. The survival of the beaver has also been affected by pollution and habitat loss. Successful beaver reintroduction in the last century has returned to many them to their former habitats.

Ecologists and economists have determined that freshwater wetlands are the world’s most valuable terrestrial ecosystem in terms of natural resources and beaver’s play a crucial role in changing the quality of the wetlands ecosystem here in Bull Creek and Libertyville Township. They are key players in the aquatic ecosystem and neighboring riparian forests they inhabit. The wetlands formed by beavers change the water movement and the woodland environment and the resulting wetland formation increases the biodiversity of both flora and fauna in the ecosystem. These self-sacrificing, ecological engineers are working hard to transform the environment and create a better community for us to inhabit. The beavers are Bull Creek’s symbol of renewal.

Resources

Anderson, R. “Castor canadensis”, Animal Diversity, University of Michigan, 2002. Web.  30 Jan. 2012.

“Beaver: Castor candensis”, NatureWorks, New Hampshire Public Television and  Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, N.D. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

“The Beaver”, Beavers: Wetlands and Wildlife. N.P. 2002. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.

Naiman, R.F., C.A. Johnston, J.C. Kelley.  “Alteration of North American Streams by Beaver.” BioScience. 1988.38: 753-762.

Grannes, Steven.”Beaver Dam Information Site”, 18 Sept. 2008. Web. 29 Jan 2012.

The Rain Barrel is Offline

BWCA by Nicole

We’ve vacationed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area many times and I’ve always left there feeling at peace and one with nature. Usually, as we head further south, towards home, I’m jostled back into the present by the thought of how the changing climate will impact these pristine waters. I realize that despite the BWCA’s seemingly unending water, it is not an unlimited resource. In fact, the Earth’s water supply is rapidly becoming a vanishing resource. As concerned citizens, we must conserve water since it is necessary for all living things to be sustained. We can all do our part by recycling the raindrops.

We recycle with a seasonal rain barrel. We collect the rainwater that falls onto our Illinois rooftop and down our gutter system in a 55 gallon rain barrel from spring to late fall. Each fall, at the first sign of a hard freeze, we close down our rain barrel to eliminate problems associated with freezing water. Some northern rain harvesters contend that taking the rain barrel offline in the winter is unnecessary if the spigot is left open and the water completely drains from the rain barrel, as well as the hoses. I am more comfortable disconnecting the rain barrel during the winter, knowing I won’t have to fret about whether the rain barrel has survived winter’s harshness well enough to weather a spring downpour without producing a flood around my foundation.

It’s a simple process to close down the rain barrel for the winter:

  1. Prior to the first hard freeze, disconnect the flexible downspout so that it is no longer configured to flow into the rain barrel.
  2. Return downspout system to its original configuration by placing the flexible downspout connector into the previously removed downspout section of the aluminum gutter.
  3. Direct the downspout’s flow away from building’s foundation.
  4. Drain the water from the rain barrel and hoses.
  5. Remove and store the screens and hoses.
  6. Turn the rain barrel upside down or cover the top to prevent water accumulation, which can lead the rain barrel to freeze and crack.
  7. After the spring thaw, return the rain barrel to its online configuration by reversing the aforementioned steps.

Flexible Connector

Rain Collection

Barrel Drained

Rain Barrel Offline

Rain Barrel in Winter Position

Covered for the Winter

Spring brings a lot of rain in the Midwest. Sometimes it brings flooding, too. Flooding is the result of an increase of impervious surfaces covering the ground. With fewer places for rain to be absorbed, it rapidly makes its way into our local watershed and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. The reduction of stormwater runoff into any watershed correlates to less pollution and sedimentation down its waterway path. As one might suspect, the runoff problem is only getting worse as climate change creates torrential rain deluges followed by longer periods of drought. Lack of rain requires everyone to conserve our water resources more vigilantly since rain is the origin of all our freshwater resources. Rain barrel use is one way we can reduce our dependence on municipal water supplies and sewage treatment centers, while lowering our household water bills. Rain recycling also provides a source of chemically free water for gardening. If your’re not convinced yet of the merits of a rain barrel, consider Benjamin Franklin’s insight about our vanishing resource…” When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.” Trust me, if you depend on a well for water and you’ve had to have the well drilled deeper to increase your household water pressure, you know first hand the cost of water!

For the converts, below you will find so valuable information regarding procurement and installation of your very own raindrop recycling system or rain barrel.

Where to find or how to make rain barrels

  • Rain barrel are readily available at most home improvement and gardening stores. Starting prices for a basic rain barrel is about$70. Lowes, Menards, Home Depot, and Ace Hardware all carry rain barrels as part of their store and online inventory.
  • Another great source for rain barrels is your local forest preserve district. Many Forest preserve Districts offer rain barrel sales in the spring.
  • From Illinois’ Governor, Pat Quinn: a Where to Buy Rain Barrels web page.
  • For DIYers, Garden Goddess, Rebecca Chesin, has created a straightforward rain barrel construction guide on her web siteThe Rain Barrel Project.
  • HGTV also has step by step directions for rain barrel construction.
  • Tom Butzler from Penn State Cooperative Extension has a great online video on How to Make Cheap Eco-friendly Rain Barrels.

Rain barrel installation

  • Step by step rain barrel installation instructions can be found on the blog, Rain Barrel Guide.
  •  A video, as well as written instructions for How to Install Rain Water Collection system is available from This Old House.

More rain barrel information

Related articles

A Rough Bundle of Brushwood

For me, gardening is a cathartic process. As Hugh Prather aptly said, “I touch the Earth and the Earth touches me.” The Earth and I are connected in a symbiotic relationship. This relationship is nurtured daily in my backyard. Our yard provides us with the opportunity to be an environmental steward 365 days a year. As an environmental steward, I am entrusted to care for the natural environment. I choose to care for the land by planting with a purpose, reestablishing biodiversity in our little piece of the ecosystem, and protecting the creek  from the effects of further streambank erosion. In this post I will focus on streambank stabilization practices that employ nonstructural, bioengineering measures such as fascines or wattles used together with vegetation as the methods of choice for protecting the streambank from further erosion.

Our property is located in the Bull Creek/Bull’s Brook Watershed. In general, watersheds drain the land  into a specific river, lake, or creek. Our land drains into Bull Creek, which then makes its way into the Upper Des Plaines Watershed. Today, much of suburban and urban land is covered with impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots. These impervious surfaces reduce the soil surface area available to filter the rainwater runoff. The watershed surface’s inability to filter the water poses not only the threat of flooding but also endangering the health of the creek by allowing polluted runoff, including natural pollutants such as sediment, to enter the watershed.

Land Plat with Designated & Divided Restoration Areas in Green

To reduce the threat of  flooding and mitigate polluted runoff, we set out to incorporate streambank stabilization techniques into our riparian/prairie restoration plan. As previously referenced on our “About” page, Integrated Lakes Management (ILM) prepared a riparian evaluation that included site-specific recommendations. One of ILM’s recommendations for stabilization of the steep hill slope on the southeast corner of our property included using a technique referred to as bank shaping. Bank shaping is used to prevent creek undercutting via reduction of the bank’s slope. Earth movers, permits, and a lot of money are needed to facilitate the creation of this gradual drop in land contour along the riparian edge. That being said, this technique is clearly not accomplished by a DIY so we decided to address the erosion problem by building and installing fascines in conjunction with planting deep-rooted vegetation for soil stabilization.

Bioengineering techniques such as fascines or wattles are used to stabilize slopes. Slope stabilization is accomplished by shortening the slope face which results in runoff velocity reduction and an increase in trapped soil erosion particles. This method of streambank stabilization can use either live or dead plant cuttings or a combination of live and dead vegetation or inorganic materials, to produce living, functioning systems that provide habitats, sediment control, as well as prevent hill slope, streambank, and lakeshore erosion. Live fascines are constructed out of a bundle of dormant sandbar willow or dogwood cuttings that take root on the slope in the spring, whereas fascines made of dead, woody branches never take root but provide planting areas by reducing the hillside slope. Given the ample supply of dead brushwood at our disposable, we have chosen to construct and install brushwood fascines as part of our streambank restoration project. Fascine construction was accomplished in the following manner:

  1. Sixty to seventy, 5 to 8 foot long, dead branches with diameters of between 1/2″ and 2″ were gathered from our property to assemble about 10 fascines.
  2. The branches were trimmed to remove side and secondary branches.
  3. Five to eight branches of similar length, but varying diameters, were laid across the yard cart, alternating the orientation of tip to cut end.
  4. The alternating branches were tied together every 1 to 2 feet using non-biodegradable twine to form a bundle or log having a diameter of  around 8 to 10 inches.

Selected Brush Material for Fascine

Trimmed Brush

Tied Brush Bundle

Close Up of tied Brush Bundle

Close Up of Tied Brush Bundle

Installation of the fascines on the cleared, hillside slope was the next order of business. The fascines were  easily installed with the help of a hand shovel, shovel or a pick ax if the soil was particularly heavy, sledge hammer, and a bit of manual labor.

Fascine Drawing

First, a shallow trench was dug into the hillside that runs parallel to contour at the base of the slope. The removed soil was placed on the upslope of the trench. The trench was made deep enough to bury 1/4 to 1/2 of the fascine below the soil surface.  When more than a single fascine was needed to run the length of the trench, the fascines were overlapped to form a seemingly continuous brush bundle. Untreated, eighteen inch, wooden stakes purchased from Lowes were used to anchor the fascines at 2-3 foot intervals. The stakes were pounded into the down-slope soil and angled slightly away from the fascines. For extra stability, wooden stakes were pounded through the middle of the fascine at a 45° angle to the slope,  as well as driven into the up-slope soil and staggered over the down slope stakes pinning the bundle in place. Finally, the up-slope soil from the trench excavation was shoveled back over the top of the fascines and into the trench.

Installing a Fascine

Pinning the Brush Bundle

Additional trenches were dug up-slope of the initial line of fascines. The distance between trenches depends upon the slope of the site and the soil type. Our site has a very, steep slope (1.5 : 1) and loose, arid soil.  Experts recommend that the fascines be installed in rows 3-5 feet apart on loose soil that is very prone to erosion. However, on other sites where the slope is not as steep and soil not so loose, 5-7 feet between rows may be sufficient. Generally speaking, a good rule of thumb is to stand on the first row and dig the next trench as far up the slope as you can comfortably reach. As a result of this trench location method we ended up with fascine rows 2-3 feet apart.

Multiple Fascine Rows

Hopefully, the multiple rows of fascines installed along the steep, creek side slope we will do there job and trap sediment and reduce soil erosion. In addition to the fascines, we have planned on installing deep rooted native grasses and forbs to further stabilize the slope as well as act as a runoff filter. The combination of the fascines and the deep rooted native plantings should go a long way toward restoring, protecting, and sustaining the riparian environment.

  • Ohio Stream Management Guide.ODNR.com. Ohio Department of Natural Resources, n.d. Web.  1 Dec. 2011.
  • Using Stabilization Techniques: to control erosion and protect property.” tva.com. Tennessee Valley Authority, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2011.
  • Bull Creek Subdivision Erosion Control Plan.” Waukegan, IL: Integrated Lakes Management,  2009. Print.

The Golden Late Bloomer

Prairie Coreopsis

What a treat, Prairie Coreopsis, aka Stiff Coreopsis, Coreopsis palmata Nutt., produced bright golden-yellow flowers right up until November despite the fact that its bloom time only extends until August. As the temperatures dipped, the uniquely shaped, oppositepalmately three-lobed leaves have begun to turn an orange-purple color. A prolific bloomer, this native forb kept on flowering even during the dog days of summer providing sustenance for bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and beetles. Not only an entomological delicacy, this overachiever also provided a mammalian treat for the herbivorous rabbits, ground hogs, and deer.

The Prairie Coreopsis spreads via underground rhizomes forming a dense mat, which makes it excellent for stabilizing slopes. We have installed these plants on the upper shoreline zone of our restoration project. Not a finicky native plant, the preferred habitats of this forb include mesic to dry moisture conditions and soil types ranging from black soil prairies, sand prairies, gravelly hill prairies, thickets, rocky upland forests, to Black Oak savannas. Seems like this easy to grow plant could be incorporated into many native gardens across the United States. For more information regarding Prairie Coreopsis and its geographical distribution visit the United States Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service web page.

Coreopsis at Nachusa Grasslands Preserve

Crimson Switch Grass

Who knew that Switch Grass, Panicum Virgatum, a perennialturns a brillant crimson color in the fall! These grasses are absolutely gorgeous against the browns and ambers which predominate the fall prairie tones.  Started from seed and planted as seedlings, these one year old plants were installed to stabilize a hillside. Switch Grass is commonly used to prevent soil erosion because its deep fibrous root system extends into the soil to a depth of ten feet. A comparative root depth diagram can be seen on Minnesota’s DNR web page. Deep soil penetration of the Switch Grasses’ root system acts as a natural herbicide by blocking weed growth, as well as, increases the soil’s fertility, permeability, and organic material!

Switch Grass

Switch Grass is of fairly hardy stock, tolerant of prairie soil conditions ranging from moist to dry. The grass requires full sun to part shade for optimum growth. This tufted grass, a native of North America and a dominant species of the Tall Grass Prairie, grows to about 36 inches tall and 20 inches in diameter with seed heads reaching to a height of five feet. The Switch Grasses’ large size and upright growth also provides wildlife protection and nesting sites. The attributes of this native plant help to sustain the prairie habitat. Both man and nature can reap ecological benefits by planting a few Switch Grass plants here and there.


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