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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Deer-tongue Grass

I have an abundance of several lesser known native grasses growing in my garden. Until recently they've been considered weeds and even now you can find articles on how to rid your lawn of them.
Danthonia spicata summer color

One is Danthonia spicata, a sweet cool season native grass that I am crazy about. Poverty Oat Grass is a perfect name for a grass that grows in the most inhospitable of "lawn" spaces: Dry upland woods and forests, upland prairies, glades, tops of bluffs, old fields, eroded pastures, roadsides and dry disturbed areas. But, don't look for it 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. It also has good wildlife value for critters.
Panicled seedheads
Another unusual and lesser known grass and the real star of Wildflower Wednesday is Dichanthelium clandestinum. Deer-tongue Grass is one of the various panic or witch grasses that I've discovered growing in damp spots in the garden. The unbranched leaves of early spring caught my eye and I was determined to identify it.

What I discovered was that most of the witch grasses/panic grasses are members of the Panicum or Dichanthelium genus and impossible for me to tell apart. Their panicled seedheads make them easily identifiable as panic grasses, but that's as far as I have gotten with most of them.
source: Kansas Native Plants

Deer-tongue grass is a native grass that occurs in the eastern half of the US. It prefers damp soil, so look for it in marshy ground, thickets, woody edges, stream banks, roadsides, and even near the shore.

It's most attractive in the early spring when the silver flower heads shimmer in the slightest breeze. The clasping leaves give the plant a bamboo like appearance and the foliage turns yellow-brown in autumn. It's attractive and has good wildlife value....so it's a keeper!  Under the right conditions it can be an aggressive spreader, but, so far, that hasn't happened here. 
The tiny flowers are produced on open, airy clusters called panicles and are nearly impossible to photograph

The particulars

Botanical name: Dichanthelium clandestinum
Grass family (Poaceae)
Common name: Deer tongue grass
Wildlife Value: Dozens of birds eat the seeds, at least 5 different skipper larva feed on it and dozens of other beetles, and other insects feed on the leaves. When left standing in winter it provides shelter for birds and small mammals. Is grazed by mammals.
Inflorescence: Panicle
Leaf: Green
Size: 24"
Bloom Time: May through Sept
Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: Zone 4 to Zone 9
Soil Preference: Clay, loam, sand
Pollination: Early flowers are wind pollinated, later ones are self pollinating
Landscape Uses: Massing, Natural garden, used to re-vegetate disturbed areas with infertile soils
Comments: In the right conditions this grass can spread aggressively.

My dear readers, you might consider allowing some of these native grasses to grow in your garden or even in your lawn. Think of all the good you'll do for skippers and other critters. Seeds can be found online, so give them a try!


Thanks for stopping by to help celebrate Wildflower Wednesday.

Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers all over this great big beautiful world. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month!

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. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I am always so impressed by your ability to identify all these grasses, Gail. I have several types of grasses that grow voluntarily in my garden, but I've never been able to positively identify them, except for the crabgrass:( I've probably pulled out some I should have kept.

  2. Grasses are challenging for me--for many reasons. But they are beautiful in their own ways and provide wildlife value, as you describe. I'll never forget the grass garden at Kew in London! It gave me a new appreciation for grasses. Have you been to Kew, Gail? You would love it! Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday.

  3. If I had come across that foliage, I am not sure if I would have realized it is a grass. You have a great place for these kinds of plants! I remembered WW last week, but not this week. I'll have to see what I could post about.

  4. My Wildflower Wednesday post is also about grass, but about what grows with it, in a lawn. The flowers I feature were blooming a month ago, but show how pretty a lawn can look when it's not a monoculture. I confess I haven't begun attempting to identify the grasses growing in our meadow or along the road.

  5. Hi Gail, You gave me the name to a grass that has grown in our yard since I was a kid. Panic grass or Deer tongue grass! I originally thought it was an ornamental that was used when our house was built almost 100 years ago. It's interesting to know that it's a native grass.

  6. Interesting. I dont' think I have ever noticed this before. I will have to look around for it.

  7. I think this grass might be trying to take over my veggie patch this year, perhaps because it has been exceptionally wet! I need to put some work in and positively identify it. If it is Deer tongue grass, perhaps I can find a home for it.

  8. I have three volunteer wild grasses - all nameless. A nutgrass, a tall sedge, and a tiny restio. Ish.

  9. Are all of these wildflowers planted purposefully in your garden, or do some simply come to visit and never leave?

  10. I'm glad to know about this grass, since it's hardy to my zone. Always looking for an attractive grass that likes shade.


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