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Indiangrass

Species

Common Name Indiangrass

Latin Name: Sorghastrum nutans

[Pronounced: "sorg-AST-rum NEW-tans"]

Type of Plant: Native warm-season grass, a prairie tallgrass


Identification Helps: Indiangrass is a tall Ohio prairie grass. Before flowering, it is identified by its unique leaf shape. From the midpoint the leaves taper toward the stem, being more slender at the stem than at the leaf center. The best way to identify Indiangrass before flowering is to pull the leaf away from the stem. A pair of small fingerlike structures will be seen pointing up the stem at the node, where the leaf joins the stem.


In August and later, Indiangrass is easily identified with the plant's beautiful golden flowers and seedheads.


Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild: Indiangrass is found growing on a wide variety of Ohio prairies, but it is most common on well-drained sites.


Preferred Soils: The species grows best in light, well-drained soils.


Seasons of Growth and Bloom: New seasonal growth begins in mid- to late April. Vegetative growth of leaves continues into July or August, when stems begin emerge. Depending on latitude (early in the south, later in the north), Indiangrass flowers in August or September, followed by the production of golden seedheads.


Natural Distribution in Ohio: Indiangrass is found throughout Ohio in all prairie regions.


Description and General Information: Indiangrass grows as a "clump grass," meaning that it tends to grow in single, confined clumps. Many other prairie grasses grow new lateral rhizomes (underground stems) that colonize new ground each year. In time, those grasses can form a dense underground root mass. Indiangrass, however, tends to remain in a central clump. Consequently, forbs can more easily grow between Indiangrass clumps. In the wild, solid stands of Indiangrass are seldom encountered.


In prairie fires, Indiangrass burns with particular heat and flame. Indiangrass stems tend to remain erect through winter rains and snows, allowing better ignition. The stems are also slightly woody (have lots of cellulose) and provide good fuel for a prairie fire.