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Switchgrass

Panicum virgatum

Panicum virgatum

Regular price $6.48 USD
Regular price Sale price $6.48 USD
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Size

Sun/shade: Full sun

Soil moisture: Dry to medium

Height: 3-6'

Spread: 2-3'

Flowering period:

Host plant for 27 caterpillar species

At the slightest breeze, the delicate projections of switchgrass’ flower cluster spring into motion – recalling, it seems, the busy flight of the native garden’s many winged visitors. Although like all grasses switchgrass is pollinated by wind rather than insects, it provides an important resource to pollinators in the form of shelter. The thatch that accumulates at its base creates cavities at the ground surface which serve as overwintering as well as nesting sites for native bees (76,79). The plant indirectly aids bee nest habitat in another manner as well, through supporting small mammal populations which consume its seed (80). Some of these mammals such as voles and mice burrow into the soil, and once they’ve vacated their tunnels, the space becomes the ideal environment for bumble bee nesting (79). In addition to supporting small mammals and native bees, switchgrass benefits numerous seed-eating bird species (8). The plant’s leaves and other tissues similarly serve as a food source to 27 species of moths and butterflies when they are in their larval, i.e., caterpillar, stage (26).

Native to NE Ohio meadows, wet meadows, and edge habitats along water bodies, switchgrass grows best under full sun in soils of moderately wet to moderately dry moisture (78). A highly competitive plant, switchgrass is best planted in combination with other grasses like big bluestem and robust wildflowers like cup plant and tall coreopsis. Like other warm-season grasses, switchgrass generally does 70% of its growing after June 1 (81), attaining a mature height of 3-6’ (7). In terms of growing habit, switchgrass shows tendencies of both bunch grasses and sod grasses, with upland populations favoring the former habit and lowland (i.e., moist site) populations the latter (78).

Photo by Andrey Zharkikh.

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