Prairie Grasses in Late Fall

The big show is almost ended by the first hard frosts.  Although the tall grasses provide an encore with their rich burst of golds, winey russets, and shades of bronze, the great host of prairie flowers now exists only as dried stalks with stripped seed heads, and a few pods clinging to frost-blighted stems.  Then even the grasses begin to bleach and fade; the prairie is assuming winter dress, a sere monotone with all life gone underground to wait another spring.

 John Madson

Where the Sky Began:  

Land of the Tallgrass Prairie


Prairie Grasses in Late Fall

The grasses have turned to shades of sepia and almond in the November



Big Bluestem (Andropogon Gerard) stands tall and straight; its turkey-foot seed heads have mostly dissipated, but its colorful coppery stems make a distinct accent in the prairie and prairie garden.





Grasses put on a spectacular show in the landscape, as well, particularly combined with stone. This is Prairie Dropseed.


Prairie Dropseed makes swirls in the prairie with its now bronze leaves.






All the grasses are exquisite, but the star of the winter prairie is Little Bluestem (Andropogon scoparius)—its copper and amethyst stems covered with sparkling white feathery seeds remain colorful all winter.



The seed heads of Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) change from yellow to bronze to brown, finally turning back to bronze for their winter dress, while the stems and leaves turn a beautiful coppery gold.



November at my house with Indian Grass.












The foliage of Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) turns golden with orange overtones, then bleaches to straw.










The almond-colored, arched foxtail seed heads of Virginia Rye (Elymus virginicus) are marvelous snow catchers and will remain until spring.









Bottlebrush Grass (Hystrix patula) in the savanna has bleached to silver.











Dried grasses make stunning decorations.


Indian Grass, Switch Grass, Big Blue Stem



Indian Grass, Switch Grass, Northern Sea Oats, and pheasant feathers.













My granddaughter, Kate, 6, added the bird nest (faux) to my bouquet of Indian Grass and Northern Sea Oats.  It’s perfect!











Switch Grass and Indian Grass (and even a cattail) in silhouette against the morning light.



So decorate your gardens and your house with dried grasses this fall–they are especially appropriate for Thanksgiving.



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2 Responses to Prairie Grasses in Late Fall

  1. Christa Orum-Keller November 18, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    Pat – I love the book from which you quote! What a wonderful feature of grasses – especially how we can welcome them inside to beautify all winter long. Thanks!

  2. Pat Sullivan-Schroyer December 20, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    Hi Pat!
    I am thoroughly enjoying your articles and learning so much! They serve to reinforce some previous learnings as well as add more to my knowledge bank. Since I am currently assisting a new friend with a dry savannah planting both the article on Fall Foliage and this one on grasses were especially helpful. Thank you for writing these!

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