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Prairie Cordgrass


Common Name Prairie Cordgrass

Latin Name: Spartina pectinata

[Pronounced: "sparr-TYNE-ah pect-in-ATE-ah"]

Type of Plant: Prairie Grass

Identification Helps: A tall (5 ft), long-leaved grass commonly found in prairie ditches and wet spots. The seed head is diagnostic (see photo). Leaves have small teeth on their edges that grab the skin when trying to pull backwards along the leaf. Prairie cordgrass always grows in dense masses, never in small clumps. The long arching leaves help identify the plant.

Similar Species: There are no other similar Ohio grasses.

Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild: Prairie cordgrass typically grows in wet soils. It can withstand saturated soils better than any other common prairie grass. It is therefore a predominant grass of authentic wet prairies. When planted in mesic (normal moisture) soils, it will grow and survive, but in nature prairie cordgrass is a prairie wetlands species.

Seasons of Growth and Bloom: This grass shoots up quickly in May and by late June can be 3 to 4 ft tall. The curious seed heads form in August . For a week or so in October, a stand of prairie cordgrass can turn a stunning, dense yellow before falling over for the winter in November.

Natural Distribution in Ohio: The species is found in all prairie areas in the Buckeye State.

Description and General Information: This grass is only infrequently used in prairie restorations and is generally neglected. Seeds are difficult to collect and seldom profuse in number. It can be easily grown from a root or rhizome division separated from an existing clump. Horticulturally, it should be more frequently used to naturally soften ditchbottoms, water retention basins, and similar wet areas. It is a gorgeous, easy to grow large grass.

It grows outwardly each year by new rhizomes, creating new shoots. So if used horticulturally, be prepared to mow off the extending new shoots each year.

Most original Ohio wet prairies had extensive landscapes dominated by this great grass. Therefore, wet prairie restorations should concentrate on restoring the central role of this species in wet prairie ecosystems.