Description & Overview

Indian Grass is native to prairies throughout the United States as well as into Canada. A warm-season grass, it begins to gain height a little later in the growing season, blooming in the late summer. We’re always struck by the pretty little yellow flowers that hang off the stem in a row. Many types of grass have interesting seedheads, but Indian Grass is one of the few that has pretty little flowers to boot. Maturation of the seed head is followed by a beautiful gold-to-orange fall color that keeps into winter.

Core Characteristics

Category: Grasses

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 48-60 inches

Mature Spread: 36-48 inches

Growth Rate: Fast

Growth Form: Clumping Perennial

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Site Requirements: Average, Dry, Wet. Clay, Rocky. Adaptable.

Flower: Small, Yellow

Bloom Period: Late Summer

Foliage: Blue-Green

Fall Color: Yellow, Gold, Orange

Urban Approved: No

Fruit Notes: Purple caryopsis

Suggested Uses

Indian Grass is a classic tallgrass prairie species oftentimes found alongside dominant grasses like Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Switch Grass. It is also found in fields, open woods, dry slopes, and roadsides as it readily seeds in bare dirt. Due to its adaptability, it can handle conditions that run the gamut, from drought to occasional flooding and from clay to rocky soils. This grass, admittedly like many others, is rock solid and a wonderful choice for any prairie restoration project.

Prairie Restoration: Indian Grass does freely self-seed. This, combined with its many benefits for wildlife, make it a valuable plant for any restoration project.
Erosion Control: Use on slopes along riparian areas or on hillsides to prevent erosion. Grasses are very efficient for erosion control due to their dense, fibrous root systems.
Cut Flower: Dried seed heads and plumes, can be cut and used in arrangements.
Prairie/ Wildflower Garden:
Great fall color, winter interest, and vertical height would make this a great accent in any garden.

Indian Grass is native to prairies throughout the United States as well as into Canada. A warm-season grass, it begins to gain height a little later i…

Wildlife Value

Due to its dominance in tallgrass prairies many species rely on this grass in all the ways they can.

Mammals: Small mammals rely on the seeds in early fall. The tall grass is used for protection by all, from rabbits to deer. Deer often rest in the grass during the day.
Livestock: Cows, horses, bison, etc. readily eat Indian Grass. It is rich in protein and vitamin A. In some regions the quantity and quality of Indian Grass on a grazing plot is used as an indicator of how well a property is being managed.
Birds: Many ground-dwelling species such as pheasants and Northern Bobwhite, as well as sparrows and the like, eat the seeds and use the foliage for nesting material and protection.
Insects: Grasshoppers and leaf hoppers feed on the foliage, incidentally attracting the insectivorous birds that feed on them. Circle of life and all that. Indian Grass is also the host to the Pepper and Salt Skipper. Bees feed on the nectar.

Maintenance Tips

Indian Grass can be left up for winter as birds can use it as a winter food source. If it is planted in a landscape setting then it can be cut down to about six inches in late spring before the new growth begins. Note: The birds do use last year’s spent blades as nesting material. If you would like to cut it down due to aesthetics then consider leaving what you cut down in some corner of the yard. Goodwill for your birds!

Indian Grass will spread by seed, readily, inevitably. Seed heads can be disposed of before they drop. Consider this characteristic before planting in a small area where only one or two plants are wanted/needed.

Indian Grass is native to prairies throughout the United States as well as into Canada. A warm-season grass, it begins to gain height a little later i…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

If Indian Grass is planted in rich soil the leaf blades may flop. This effect can be minimized by planting it alongside other taller species that would help to keep the leaf blades propped up.

Planting in leaner soil would lessen flop and may even slow spread due to self-seeding.

Indian Grass may sometimes be susceptible to foliar diseases such as leaf spot or rust which can be prevented by watering at the base of the plant and thinning periodically.

Leaf Lore

The genus Sorghastrum is derived from Greek and means “sorghum-like.” The actual genus Sorghum is in the grass family.

Species nutans means “nod” or “nodding,” likely referring to the flower head.

Indian Grass is the official state grass of Oklahoma and South Carolina.

The Lakota referred to Indian Grass as “red grass with fluffy light-colored end” while Native Americans wove the grass into baskets and mats. They were also known to dye the grass and thread it with beads, bark, or quills for ornamentation.

Companion Plants

Indian Grass pairs well with other prairie plants such as Big Bluestem, Sweet Black-eyed Susan, Blazing Star, Yellow Coneflower, and Wild Senna. If planted densely they would also help to prevent flopping.

Leadplant, White Wild Indigo, Little Bluestem, and Prairie Dock are also natives found in prairies that would look swell.

Wild Strawberry works beautifully as a groundcover in this setting and would spread nicely along sunny borders.

Indian Grass is native to prairies throughout the United States as well as into Canada. A warm-season grass, it begins to gain height a little later i…
johnsons nursery menomonee falls horticulturist julia feltes

Written by Julia Feltes