prairie dropseed

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). This Poaceae is native to the prairies of central North America from Texas to southern Canada. Prairie dropseed is found very occasionally eastward to the Atlantic coast; however, large stands outside the great prairie regions of the Great Plains and Midwest are rare.

Prairie dropseed is a bunch-type grass that grows up to 3 feet tall. Its leaves are narrow and arch outward, giving plants a tuft-like appearance. Leaves are green in spring and summer, changing to rusty-yellow in the fall.

In Lurie Garden, S. heterolepis is used to weave together groups of other plants–acting as an ecologically important and aesthetically effective connector of horizontal and vertical spaces between planting groups.

Sporobolus heterolepis is useful in the landscape for its fine-textured foliage that brings year-round interest. Summer brings foliage that is a rich green, fading to a golden rust color in the fall, and eventually to a light yellow brown in the heart of winter. For the true four-season garden, S. heterolepis provides not only color and texture interest but also long-lived structural impact. The rounded-tufted to reflexed vase shape of S. heterolepis is maintained throughout the year, with foliage tough enough to sustain its shape even under a heavy snowfall. Additionally, prairie dropseed imparts excellent ecological function to the garden–providing seed for birds and other animals to feed on throughout the winter, and furnishing an ample supply of nest building material in the late winter and early spring.

Native Americans ground the seeds of prairie dropseed to produce a flour. In Lurie Garden, prairie dropseed is a favorite for birds to browse for seed. Some people say that prairie dropseed flowers produce a popcorn-like scent!

Botanical Name Sporobolus heterolepis
Common Name prairie dropseed
Family Poaceae
USDA Zone 3 thru 9
Light Requirement Full Sun
Season(s) of interest Summer, Fall, Winter
Height and Spread
2-3ft x 2-3ft (60-90cm x 60-90cm)
Flower Color Pinkish Brown
Attracts Wildlife
Food, Hosts
Additional Information
Native to the Chicago Region. Native range: Quebec to Saskatchewan South to Connecticut, Eastern Texas, and Colorado.
Location in Lurie Garden
West Meadow, East Meadow, East Dark Plate, North Dark Plate, Northeast Light Plate, Northwest Light Plate, Southwest Light Plate, Southeast Light Plate