Switchgrass

Common Name: Switchgrass.

Scientific Name: Panicum Virgatum.

What to look for?  Picture a Tallgrass prairie. Switchgrass will be one of the “tall grasses.” Big clump of tall, leafy grass. Large, airy, pyramidal cluster of spikelets atop the stems. Switchgrass has an erect, columnar form, usually in clumps. There are tufts of leafy culms (hollow stems) that stand erect. It has long, green leaves which turn yellow in autumn and tan in winter. During mid-summer, the foliage is topped by finely-textured, pink-tinged, branched, airy flower panicles. Panicles turn tan as the seeds mature in fall and scatter to the ground. The seed plumes persist well into winter. The root system is rhizomatous. Reproduction is by seed and from clonal offsets of the rhizomes.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? Switchgrass can be found along the banks of Carillon Stonegate Pond and in the restored prairie at Stonegate Park.

How big are they? Switchgrass grows from three (3) feet up to six (6) feet tall when in bloom. The long, narrow leaves are approximately two (2) feet long and ½ inch across. Each inflorescence is an airy panicle of spikelets and may be up to twenty (20) inches in length.

Where do they grow and thrive? The native Switchgrass occurs across most areas of Illinois. Across the U.S., this plant is found in most states, except the west coast. Habitats include prairies, savannas, open woodlands, rocky bluffs, sand dunes, edges of marshes, banks of rivers and ponds, prairie restorations, areas along railroads, roadsides, ditches, and abandoned fields. Like other prairie species, this native grass recovers readily from occasional wildfires or controlled burns.

When do they bloom? The blooming period of Switchgrass occurs during mid-summer and lasts approximately two (2) weeks.

Do birds, insects or other wildlife associate with this plant? Various insects feed on Switchgrass including the caterpillars of several skippers and moths. The seeds of Switchgrass are eaten by a variety of birds, including wetland birds (Mallards, Canada Geese, etc.), upland gamebirds, and granivorous songbirds (White-crowned Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, etc.). Because Switchgrass forms in large clumps and remains upright during the winter, it provides good cover for various birds and mammals.

Interesting Facts About the Switchgrass:

  • Switchgrass is one of the dominant grasses of the tallgrass prairie.

  • Switchgrass has been evaluated as an alternative fuel, capable of producing more alcohol per acre than corn.

  • Genus name Panicum comes from an old Latin word for millet.

  • Specific epithet Virgatum means twiggy.

For more information on the Switchgrass and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit Illinois Wildflowers, Minnesota Wildflowers, Missouri Botanical Garden, and Morton Arboretum.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.

 

Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!