Plant DetailShow Menu

Tall Panic Grass Panicum virgatum

Phonetic Spelling
PAN-ih-kum ver-GAY-tum
Description

Switchgrass is a perennial, warm-season ornamental grass that is native to North Carolina. This plant is one of the more dominant species of the tallgrass prairie, but it is found all over North America growing along moist roadsides, streambanks, and woodlands.   It reaches 3-4 feet and with its flower plumes it can measure up to 7 feet tall. It forms a dense columnar foliage clump that can spread slowly through creeping rhizomes and remains attractive year-round.

Plant it in the full sun moist clay or sandy soils. Partial shade is acceptable but it will not grow as tightly and may flop over.  It has a bluish cast in the summer and is topped by finely-textured, pink-tinged, branched flower panicles that hover over the foliage like a cloud. After the flowers go to seed leave them on the plant to provide a winter food source for birds and small mammals.  The leaves will turn attractive shades of yellow-orange in the fall and then leaves will fade to light brown and persist through the winter. Prune the plants back severely in late winter to early spring.  

Mass plant this grass in the back of a border, or use as a screen.  It is effective as an accent plant in a native or water garden. This plant is resistant to deer grazing, drought, erosion, and air pollution.  It is also slightly salt tolerant, withstands occasional flooding, and can be planted near black walnut trees. 

Fire Risk: This plant has an extreme flammability rating and should not be planted within the defensible space of your home.  Select plants with a low flammability rating for the sites nearest your home. 

Seasons of Interest:

     Bloom: Late Summer/Fall        Fruit/Seed/Nut: Fall/Winter

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No serious problems.  Thrips, spider mites, and Japanese Beetles are occasional pests.  In southern summers rust might become an issue and if grown in stressful conditions crown or root rot can occur.

 

 

 

 

See this plant in the following landscape:
Walkway Garden
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Blue Tower'
    8' tall blue-green leaves
  • 'Cloud Nine' Full Form
    Blue green leaves; dark gold fall color
  • 'Dallas Blues'
    5' tall, powdery blue leaves, copper fall color, pink-purple flowers
  • 'Heavy Metal' Full Form
    Metallic blue foliage
  • 'Northwind'
    5' tall, erect, blue leaves, gold fall, burgandy-green flowers
  • 'Prairie Fire'
    5' green leaves turn deep red summer, yellow in the fall, pink flowers
  • 'Prairie Sky'
    4'-5' tall bluest leaves
  • 'Shenandoah'
    4' tall, red leaf tips, burgundy fall color and seed heads
  • 'Thundercloud'
  • var. cubense
    Wet to dry sandy pine forest
  • var. virgatum
    dry or wet sandy soil, marshes, shores, pine forest
'Blue Tower', 'Cloud Nine', 'Dallas Blues', 'Heavy Metal', 'Northwind', 'Prairie Fire', 'Prairie Sky', 'Shenandoah', 'Thundercloud', var. cubense, var. virgatum
Tags:
#fall color#water garden#resistant#wildlife plant#salt tolerant#cover plant#winter interest#fall interest#accent plant#mass planting#air pollution tolerant#playground#seeds#year-round interest#coastal#wet sites#stream banks#small mammals#food source#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire#extreme flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#skipper butterflies#pond#edible seeds#screening#pollinator plant#native ornamental grass#nesting sites#larval host plant#maze#food source winter#food source fall#food source herbage#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#butterfly friendly#butterfly larvae#pollinator garden#bog gardens#black walnut toxicity tolerant#audubon#woodlands#wet soil intolerant#common wood-nymph butterfly#various skipper butterflies#stormwater demo garden orange co
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Blue Tower'
    8' tall blue-green leaves
  • 'Cloud Nine' Full Form
    Blue green leaves; dark gold fall color
  • 'Dallas Blues'
    5' tall, powdery blue leaves, copper fall color, pink-purple flowers
  • 'Heavy Metal' Full Form
    Metallic blue foliage
  • 'Northwind'
    5' tall, erect, blue leaves, gold fall, burgandy-green flowers
  • 'Prairie Fire'
    5' green leaves turn deep red summer, yellow in the fall, pink flowers
  • 'Prairie Sky'
    4'-5' tall bluest leaves
  • 'Shenandoah'
    4' tall, red leaf tips, burgundy fall color and seed heads
  • 'Thundercloud'
  • var. cubense
    Wet to dry sandy pine forest
  • var. virgatum
    dry or wet sandy soil, marshes, shores, pine forest
'Blue Tower', 'Cloud Nine', 'Dallas Blues', 'Heavy Metal', 'Northwind', 'Prairie Fire', 'Prairie Sky', 'Shenandoah', 'Thundercloud', var. cubense, var. virgatum
Tags:
#fall color#water garden#resistant#wildlife plant#salt tolerant#cover plant#winter interest#fall interest#accent plant#mass planting#air pollution tolerant#playground#seeds#year-round interest#coastal#wet sites#stream banks#small mammals#food source#highly beneficial coastal plants#cpp#fire#extreme flammability#NC native#deer resistant#children's garden#skipper butterflies#pond#edible seeds#screening#pollinator plant#native ornamental grass#nesting sites#larval host plant#maze#food source winter#food source fall#food source herbage#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#bird friendly#dry soils tolerant#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#butterfly friendly#butterfly larvae#pollinator garden#bog gardens#black walnut toxicity tolerant#audubon#woodlands#wet soil intolerant#common wood-nymph butterfly#various skipper butterflies#stormwater demo garden orange co
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Panicum
    Species:
    virgatum
    Family:
    Poaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    It is being explored for its use as a biofuel.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    North America
    Fire Risk Rating:
    extreme flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Provides excellent cover year round. This is a larval host plant for various Skipper butterflies and the Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala) which have one brood from late May to October. Adult Common Wood-Nymph butterflies feed on rotting fruit and flower nectar. Seeds are eaten by songbirds and small mammals in the winter.
    Play Value:
    Edible fruit
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Nesting
    Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems):
    Deer browsing
    Dimensions:
    Height: 3 ft. 0 in. - 7 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Ornamental Grasses and Sedges
    Perennial
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Clumping
    Columnar
    Dense
    Erect
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Maintenance:
    Low
    Texture:
    Fine
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    Sand
    Soil Drainage:
    Moist
    Occasional Flooding
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3b, 3a, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Cream/Tan
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Caryopsis
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    Teardrop seed is in form of a grain 1/8" long start out pink or purple and turn tan in the fall. Displays from August to November.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Pink
    Purple/Lavender
    Red/Burgundy
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Panicle
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Good Cut
    Good Dried
    Long-lasting
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Winter
    Flower Description:
    Open 1' tall flower spikes with branched panicles of feathery dark red anthers and stigmas to purple from June to October with shiny red seeds.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Blue
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Long-lasting
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Orange
    Leaf Type:
    Sheath
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Rosulate
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Description:
    Medium green with a bluish cast narrow leaves have a visible midrib. A small patch of white hairs present where the leaves attach to the stems. Good fall color of yellow and orange. Winter color is tan.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    Round stiff stems
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Container
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Pond
    Recreational Play Area
    Vertical Spaces
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Children's Garden
    Cutting Garden
    Edible Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Screen/Privacy
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Butterflies
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Erosion
    Pollution
    Salt
    Wet Soil