Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: Poverty Oat Grass

 But, its real charm is the twisted beige winter foliage
Danthonia spicata won't be found among the ornamental grasses offered by most nurseries.  It isn't a big sexy grass with showy inflorescence, but, it has much to offer for gardeners who love native plants.

Danthonia starting to fill in the lawnette

I love that it will grow on dry, rocky and poor soils where one might assume nothing could possibly grow. So it's probably no surprise that it is found naturally growing at Clay and Limestone. I've plenty of thin soil sitting on top of rock and Poverty Oat Grass is growing right on top of it.

I had already fallen for its charms long before I stumbled upon it's identity.  After all, here was a plant that grew were absolutely nothing else would and it required very little care.  It has a  ground cover effect where it has been allowed to seed and spread. But, its real charm is  the twisted beige winter foliage.

But, that's not all! It has wildlife valueVarious insects feed on the foliage, including several really cute skippers and small critters use the foliage for protective cover. It's also deer proof! Btw, that's becoming increasingly important to me! 

source: Matthew Perry

It's very happy in the semi-shade of the Bur Oak and is the primary grass in the Blue Bottle Tree lawnette. There's something  pleasantly calming about mowed greenery amidst the exuberance of my native plantings, but, I'm thinking of letting the danthonia flower and go to seed.  I want to see the plant in full growth and see the inflorescence that has been described as small and delicate. It's a airy grass that may look lovely en mass.  In addition to all those good reasons, there's one more: letting it go to seed means more plants since, this little grass does not spread by rhizomes. 

In case you were wondering: 

Danthonia spicata is technically a cool season perennial bunchgrass that can be found growing in most of North America except California, Nevada and Utah (not to worry Danthonia californica grows there). 
Native cool season grasses grow and reproduce in cooler conditions, offering forage in early spring, fall, and part of winter, and seed by early summer.  They grow well under the shade found in woodlands or in moist and dry prairies and are easily propagated from seed.  Chasmanthium latifolium (River Oats) and Elymus hystrix (Bottlebrush Grass)  are two other native cool season grasses that you are more likely to encounter  in the trade. Bunch grasses form one clump (or bunch) and do not produce well developed rhizomes or stolons. Gardeners who want to move away from the high maintenance of  turf grasses should consider  bunch grasses. Both cool and warm season bunch grasses fulfill an important ecological role in prairies and other natural communities.  They can play a similar role in our gardens.  These grasses provide food (forage and seeds) early in the growing season as well as cover for wildlife.

I am happy to report that if you want to give Poverty Oat Grass a try in that very difficult, poor dry soil you can now find seed. Try searching the internet or you can visit Prairie Moon Nursery.

It's a really cool grass. Trust me!  Have I ever steered you wrong!

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.  

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone."


  1. Hello Gail, thanks for hosting these Wildflower Wednesday. I am so glad i was able to link at the start, when most of the time I either forgot to link or I am at the tail end. About wild grasses, we have a lot in the tropics, we normally don't like them, but just like the value of yours there in the cold climes, they really have lots of benefits for the birds and wildlife including butterflies and insects.

  2. Gail, I will definitely check it out as I have been looking for some ideas for ground cover and to replace turf. No wildflowers blooming but I am highlighting all my purple natives...hope you like them!

  3. Hi Gail, now I am all excited to go out and look for this grass. I would bet anything it is out there amongst the vastness of small clumps of grassy stuff that came up without any help from the gardener. Once said gardener stopped pulling them as weeds, that is. Is there an identification method that is best? The little tan curls?

  4. This looks like some of the wild grass that pops up in my garden. I have a hard time identifying grasses.

  5. Why, I think I recognize it. You always solve a mystery even when I have not identified it as one. Thanks, Gail.

  6. I had been meaning to identify this grass now that it is so noticeable. Thanks for giving it a plug. :)

  7. Gail, you've done it again--you've introduced me to yet another plant I wasn't familiar with! However, this looks very familiar and may be already growing in my garden; like Lisa, I have trouble identifying grasses. Now that I know its virtues, maybe I'll stop trying to dig it out and just enjoy it instead.

  8. I don't think I've seen this grass before but it looks like a charmer!

  9. I thought we had some of this grass in the wild areas of our yard and beyond, though I don't remember that kind of seed head. Perhaps I will need to be more observant with the wild grassesin the growing season.

  10. Thanks for the informative view on this very valuable grass. I will pay more attention to the grasses growing around the edges of the wooded area, many of which I am not familiar.

  11. gail, i am so glad you posted about this grass! a group of classmates and i were on a fieldtrip recently and all of us were wondering what that cool curlicue grass was! we all liked it. cool that it's native, too! i have it growing in my backyard. thanks for hosting wildflower wednesday. i always enjoy it.

  12. Dear Gail, I too love the curly golden leaves of this grass. The height when in bloom does seem just the right one for ticks to hang out on . . . sigh! It is lovely though.

    1. I so hate that ticks are such an issue for you. It's just not fair...xo

  13. Here along Lake MIchigan I am blessed with so much wonderful grass, some native others not so, but all add that movement and the nesting for birds. Every year there have been Bobolink here all the way from Argentina! No kidding. We are all one. I see it here. Jack

  14. It definitely looks charming...especially those subtle seed heads...I think you should let it go to seed for sure this year...would look amazing!

  15. Hi Gail,
    I enjoyed seeing that cute little grass, and reading about it. I don't think I've heard of it. I do grow Northern Sea Oats, which spread by seed. I pull seedlings of these out regularly. I just read that they are also native to the U.S.

    I have a post in the making, but most of the photos I took are about the same as last month, so I'm not sure what I'll come up with. I think it is going to be a bit of a hodge podge post, because I want to show a hellebore bloom.

  16. Oh, and I had been hearing of local people seeing robins already, but until today, hadn't seen any. I got all excited when I looked out of a window at work, and saw at least 10 robins, and a number of other birds, I think, grackles.

  17. Very interesting grass!
    Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday!
    Lea's Menagerie

  18. Gail, Thank you so much for hosting Wildflower Wednesday! The world would be a better place if we all grew more wildflowers. I believe what you are doing with your blog is very important, because you are informing folks how to use the native plants in their gardens. KUDOS!!!

  19. Hello, I'm new to garden blogging and I've just found your site. Wildflower Wednesday - a brillant idea. Christine

  20. Tagging along at the end with Plumbago, Plectranthus and pelargoniums.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson