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Poaceae (Gramineae)
Ornamental grasses and grasslike plants

Graceful, fine-textured, clumping grasses that are as tough as they are good-looking. Deep-rooted and drought-tolerant; excellent for massing in hot, dry areas and effective in meadow gardens, mixed borders, naturalized areas, rock gardens, and even by swimming pools. Plume-like flower heads appear in summer and fall. After they fade, tiny seeds drop to the ground; hence the common name. These plants tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.

Sporobolus airoides
Sporobolus airoides

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Sporobolus airoides

Native from South Dakota and Missouri west to eastern Washington, south to Mexico from 2,500–6,500-ft. elevation. Foliage clump grows to 3 ft. tall and wide; leaves are grayish green during the growing season, yellow in fall, beige in winter. At bloom time in summer or fall, showy, erect or arching flower plumes increase plant height to 5 ft.; plumes are pinkish, eventually fading to pale straw color. Extremely tough, deep-rooted plant. Good grass for alkaline conditions.

Sporobolus heterolepis (photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo)
Sporobolus heterolepis (photo courtesy of Rob Cardillo)

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Sporobolus heterolepis

Native to the Midwest, High Plains, and much of the eastern U.S. Emerald green, hairlike leaves form a billowing mass to 15 in. tall and 1 1/2 ft. wide. Foliage turns golden to orange in fall, then fades to light bronze in winter. Slender-stemmed, airy panicles of flowers rise to 3 ft. tall, soaring above the foliage in late summer. Blossoms are pink to light brown and smell faintly of buttered popcorn. The seeds are highly nutritious and were ground into flour by the Plains Indians. Self-sows mildly; volunteer seedlings are seldom a problem. Plants tolerate any soil but do best when it’s on the dry side.

Sporobolus wrightii

Native in North America from 2,000–7,000-ft. elevation. Narrow, arching, blue-green leaves form a clump to 3–4 ft. tall and wide. Feathery, golden yellow seed heads nearly double the plant’s height in late summer to early fall; good in dried arrangements. Evergreen in all but the coldest climates. Quite drought-tolerant but looks best with occasional deep watering.

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