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Prairie Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis

Other Common Name(s):

Phonetic Spelling
spor-OB-oh-lus heh-teh-roh-LEP-iss
Description

Prairie dropseed, is a native perennial clump-forming, warm-season, ornamental grass that forms dense tufts of sprawling leaves up to 2 feet high and 3 feet across. It is a prairie grass typically found in glades, open ground and along railroads from Canada to the United States. Tiny rounded mature seeds drop to the ground from their hulls in autumn giving rise to the descriptive common name.

Prairie dropseed grows in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils and has a reputation for being slow to establish itself in a site as well as slow growing. It prefers full sun and dry, rocky soil, but tolerates a wide range of soils, including heavy clays, as well as deer, drought, and other challenges.

The flowers arch high above the leaves and provide movement as they sway in the wind dispersing their fragrance said to be reminiscent of buttered popcorn or hot wax.  It displays a glossy green fine summer color that turns deep orange in late fall and then fades to light copper. Snow does not flatten the plant, so it is visible even in winter.  Prune it back in spring to shape.  The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous.  It can be grown from seed but does not freely self-seed in the garden. Because the seeds are difficult to germinate, it is easier to propagate this grass by dividing the dense tufts of leaves. Once it becomes established at a suitable site, Prairie dropseed is long-lived.

This plant is listed by the Department of Agriculture as endangered in seven eastern states, including North Carolina.  Use in the upper tier of a rain garden, mass planted in a meadow, as an accent in a rock garden, or as a lawn alternative.  It works well to prevent erioson or can be used in the front of a border to line a walkway.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Problems: No serious problems.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#showy flowers#fragrant flowers#drought tolerant#slow growing#lawn alternative#low maintenance#winter interest#ornamental grass#mass planting#erosion control#endangered#NC native#deer resistant#warm-season grass#long lifespan#native ornamental grass#border front#walkway planting#foot traffic tolerant#fall color bronze#lawn alternative full sun
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#showy flowers#fragrant flowers#drought tolerant#slow growing#lawn alternative#low maintenance#winter interest#ornamental grass#mass planting#erosion control#endangered#NC native#deer resistant#warm-season grass#long lifespan#native ornamental grass#border front#walkway planting#foot traffic tolerant#fall color bronze#lawn alternative full sun
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Sporobolus
    Species:
    heterolepis
    Family:
    Poaceae
    Uses (Ethnobotany):
    Native Americans used the seeds to make flour.
    Life Cycle:
    Perennial
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Division
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Canada to U.S.A
    Distribution:
    throughout
    Wildlife Value:
    Birds like sparrows and juncos feed on the seeds. Feeds grasshoppers and leafhoppers.
    Dimensions:
    Height: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 2 ft. 0 in. - 3 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Ornamental Grasses and Sedges
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Arching
    Dense
    Mounding
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    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
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Occasionally Dry
    Available Space To Plant:
    3 feet-6 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    3b, 3a, 4a, 4b, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7b, 7a, 8b, 8a, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Fruit Type:
    Achene
    Fruit Description:
    Seeds are achenes that are brown and drop to the ground where they are enjoyed by wildlife.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Pink
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Panicle
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Flower Size:
    > 6 inches
    Flower Description:
    Pink and brown-tinted 3 to 8 inch flowers. Scented , open panicles on slender stems held 3 feet above the foliage. Blooms from August to October. Flowers have pink and brown tints, but are perhaps most noted for their unique fragrance (hints of buttered popcorn, hot wax, or coriander).
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Smooth
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Orange
    Leaf Type:
    Fronds
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    < 1 inch
    Leaf Description:
    Thread-like, fine textured, hair-like leaves. Glossy green summer color turns deep orange in late fall then fades to light copper. Leaves (to 20 inches long and 1/16 of an inch wide) typically form an arching foliage mound, 15 inches tall and 18 inches wide.
  • Stem:
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Naturalized Area
    Rock Wall
    Walkways
    Landscape Theme:
    Drought Tolerant Garden
    Garden for the Blind
    Rock Garden
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Border
    Mass Planting
    Attracts:
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Black Walnut
    Deer
    Drought
    Dry Soil
    Erosion
    Foot Traffic
    Pollution