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Switchgrass


Species

Common Name: Switchgrass

Latin Name: Panicum virgatum

[Pronounced: "PAN-ih-cum  ver-GATE-um”]

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


Identification Helps: Switchgrass is a common tallgrass of Ohio prairies. It grows up to 6' tall. At maturity, in late July through August, switchgrass displays a unique misty mass of seedheads above the leafy foliage.


Separating this species from the other two common prairie tallgrasses, Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) before seedheads appear in late summer is done by checking the nodes, where the leaves attach to the stem. Big  Bluestem has no noticeable features at the node. Switchgrass has a nest of hairs on the leaf base at the node, and Indiangrass has a pair of "ears" projecting up from the node when the leaves are pulled away from the stem.


Preferred Growing Conditions in the Wild: Switchgrass grows naturally in prairies and soils of average (mesic, pronounced "MEES-ik " or "MEZ-ik") to wet (hydric) moisture availability. Extremely dry sites are not favorable. Like most prairie plants, the grass requires un-shaded conditions.


Preferred Soils: The species grows in almost all soil types, but does well in continually wet soils.


Seasons of Growth and Bloom: New seasonal growth erupts from existing root crown in mid to late April. Leafy growth occurs into July, with stems forming in late July. Seedheads form from late July through August.


Natural Distribution in Ohio: Switchgrass is found naturally throughout the state. In presettlement times, as with the other prairie tallgrasses,  it was found on virtually all Ohio prairies, from small woodland prairie openings, to giant prairie landscapes such as the Darby Plain, Sandusky Plains, and all of the other large Ohio prairies.


Description and General Information: As with Indiangrass, Big Bluestem, and Little Bluestem, Switchgrass is a C-4 warm season grass that grows vigorously in hot and dry conditions.


There are a number of interesting horticultural selections of switchgrass, and it is often planted in monocultures for conservation or erosion-control habitat. Switchgrass is prime candidate as a productive lignocellulosic biofuels feedstock.


Switchgrass occurs commonly in high-quality native Ohio prairies, but usually as scattered specimens.