If you’d been standing in the middle of the North American prairie two centuries ago, chances are there would’ve been a clump of Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) within reach. This upright perennial grass was one of the most common plants in the tallgrass prairie ecosystem; now it’s popular in gardens for its drought hardiness and year-round drama. The blue-green leaf blades of Indian grass grow in clumps 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide. In late summer, soft golden brown seed heads form on stalks 3 to 7 feet tall. Foliage turns yellow-orange in autumn, and seed heads provide winter interest and food for birds.
Common name: Indian grass
Botanical name: Sorghastrum nutans
Plant type: Perennial grass
Zones: 4 to 9
Height: 3 to 7 feet
· Sun: Full sun
· Soil: Average, well-drained. Tolerates clay; thrives in poor, dry soil. Tolerates slightly acidic and slightly alkaline soil.
· Moisture: Dry to medium wet. May flop over in rich, moist soil.
· Mulch: None needed
· Pruning: In late winter, mow, burn, or cut to the ground.
· Fertilizer: None needed
· By seed
Pests and diseases
· Uncommon, but may have rust, leaf spots, or leaf smut.
· Although Sorghastrum nutans isn’t considered an aggressive colonizer, it may reseed itself if it’s in a favorable spot.
· Use for a border, in a prairie setting, or to control erosion. Indian grass has very deep roots—they may reach down 7 feet.
· Mature plants are drought tolerant.
· Plant this grass where you can watch it change with the seasons.
· Many cultivars are available, including ‘Bluebird’, ‘Cheyenne’, ‘Osage’, ‘Rumsey’, and ‘Sioux Blue’.
All in the family
· Rice, corn, barley, wheat, sugar cane, and bamboo are also members of Poaceae, the grass family. Most likely, so is the grass that covers your lawn.
· Sorghastrum nutans is often used in tallgrass prairie restorations.