Prairie Dropseed Grass

Sporobolus heterolepis

Description & Overview

A most beautiful, warm season, clump-forming native prairie grass! Prairie Dropseed grass forms cascading tufts of emerald-green foliage with airy, popcorn-scented seed heads. Excellent heat and drought tolerance make this a great choice for tough, dry sites.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 24 inches
Mature Spread: 18 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Mounded, compact
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Tolerant of many soils except consistently wet sites
Flower: Insignificant, minute white
Bloom Period: August-September
Foliage: Green
Fall Color: Yellow-Wheat
Fruit Notes: Airy panicle, fragrant

Suggested Uses:

Prairie Dropseed is one of our native dry prairie grasses. Its native range extends west from the Rocky Mountains to Quebec, south to Arkansas and Georgia. This warm-season grass is commonly found in areas with dry soil but is indifferent to soil texture and will grow in clays or sands. In fall, the seeds drop from the fragrant tufts, giving this plant its common name. Although seeds are produced annually, this plant does not readily reseed in your garden and will maintain a tidy clumping habit with age.

The seed heads have a distinct scent, best described as a ‘buttered popcorn’ aroma. Don’t expect this scent to overwhelm your garden, however, as you need to be quite close to the plant to catch the fragrance.

While it can reproduce by seed, it is not particularly successful. This is a double-edged sword, as it keeps the plant tidy in a landscape setting but prevents it from spreading and colonizing in disturbed areas.

The tidy clump-forming habit and fine texture of Prairie Dropseed Grass make it a great choice for a border. If using along a walkway, take care to site it at least 18” off-center to prevent its leaves from encroaching on the path. This grass can also be massed or used as a component of a dry prairie garden. It also provides good winter interest and is tolerant of snow loads, so it can tolerate less-than-ideal spaces with higher levels of traffic.

As it is tolerant of dry conditions, this is a good candidate for green roofs.

Plant in masses for a wash of movement and sound or use it as an accent or specimen plant. It is beautiful when positioned so the flower and seed heads are backlit by warm light at sunset.

Salable sizes QUART & #1 container. Picture taken in early June.

Salable size #1 container. Picture taken in early September.

Wildlife Value:

Prairie Dropseed is used by our native bees and other insects for nesting structures and is an important component of any pollinator garden. It is a host plant for the Poweshiek Skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek), while the foliage is eaten by Two-striped slant-faced grasshoppers (Melanoplus bivittatus), Handsome grasshoppers (Syrbula admirabilis) and Red-tailed leafhoppers (Aflexia rubranura).

The seeds are also a food source for native birds including Dark-eyed Juncos, Slate-colored Juncos, Tree Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and Field Sparrows.

Maintenance Tips:

As it is drought tolerant, Prairie Dropseed requires minimal moisture once established. During the first growing season after planting, provide occasional watering to help establish the extensive root system. You can clean up this grass in spring before the new growth starts to push, cutting it back to three inches above the soil. When cutting back this grass, be careful to not cut into the crown. You can also cut this grass back in the fall if desired, but this will remove any winter interest.

prairie dropseed grass sporobolus heterolepis mass planting of native grasses


Prairie Dropseed has no major insect or disease problems.

Leaf Lore:

Specific epithet heterolepis means diversely scaled.

The Ojibwe used Prairie Dropseed as a poultice applied to sores, and as an emetic, while other indigenous tribes used it as flour.

Companion Plants:

As Prairie Dropseed Grass does well in spaces with dry soils, pair it with plants of similar moisture requirements. In front, use a low mounded plant like Prairie Smoke or Little Goldstar Black Eyed Susan. The airy seed heads look great when planted behind Butterflyweed or St. John’s Wort. Prairie Dropseed can serve as both a border around the edge of a bed or used to divide space within a bed between plants of various heights.

Its thin and airy texture provides good contrast to plants with bold foliage and makes a great filler between other native prairie plants including Pale Purple Coneflower, Prairie Blazing Star, Yellow Coneflower, or Rattlesnake Master.

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