Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)
|Also known as:||Yellow Indian Grass|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; dry to moist soil; open prairie, open woods, savanna|
|Fruiting season:||August - September|
|Plant height:||3 to 7 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Narrow plume 6 to 20 inches long at the top of the stem, lance-elliptic in outline, with many wiry, spreading to ascending branches, each with a few secondary branches. Branches are up to 4 inches long and mostly alternate.
Along branches are groups of 2 or 3 fertile spikelets (flower clusters), each containing a single flower. The glumes (bracts at the base of a spikelet) are about equal in length and somewhat shiny, the first densely covered in long hairs and wrapping around much of the spikelet, the second glume hairless. The lemma (2 bracts surrounding the flower) are slightly shorter than the spikelet; at the tip of the fertile lemma is an awn up to ¾ inch long that is bent in the lower third. The glumes and lemma are all narrowly lance-shaped with a pointed tip, with the long yellow stamens and feathery white styles poking out from the sides. Spikelets are 5 to 8 mm long excluding the awn, golden brown to chestnut in color, on wiry stalks. 1 or 2 feathery appendages are connected at the base of the fertile spikelet. These are actually the hairy stalks of sterile spikelets; they have no glumes, lemma or flowers.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are all alternate, nearly erect to flopping, 2 to 24 inches long and up to ½ inch wide, mostly flat, and rough textured on both surfaces and around the edges. The midvein is white and quite prominent towards the base.
The sheath is open with a distinct “V” at the front. The ligule (membrane where the leaf joins the sheath) is white and 2 to 6 mm long. Usually at the top of the sheath where it meets the ligule is a thick, pointed appendage (auricle) that is as long as or longer than the ligule. Nodes are covered in short, silky hairs giving them a whitish bloom. The culm (stem) is erect, hollow and hairless. Plants can create loose clumps from short, scaly rhizomes.
The branches become more erect as fruit develops, the awns twisting in the lower third. Seed is oval-elliptic, 2 to 3 mm long, smooth and golden. When mature, the entire spikelet falls off to spread the seed.
Indian Grass was one of the dominant grasses of prairies that once covered a large portion of Minnesota. It is a beautiful grass, the golden brown plumes wafting in the slightest breeze, and is widely available for the home garden as well as restoration projects.
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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka and Ramsey counties. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.
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