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Grasses at a Glance

Add Prairie Dropseed to your home garden

clumps of prairie dropseed in bloom next to a walkway

Last fall I visited the Missouri Botanic Garden with my family, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they added a fair amount of grasses to the garden beds that greet visitors when they first enter the garden. Of course I had to explore and snap some pictures, likely making me one of the most excited visitors to see all the new grass added to the garden!

At one point while walking through the beds I was hit with the unmistakable smell of buttered popcorn. I knew then that the botanic garden had added an enormous amount of one of my favorite native grasses – Prairie Dropseed.

I planted a few prairie dropseeds at my old house and just picked up an order of native plants this spring that included this grass once again! I plan to add it in a few clumps throughout my garden at my new house.

Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis, is a warm-season bunchgrass growing in tight rounded clumps. Its leaves are thin and tapering, and abundantly numerous per plant. While the clump itself is a great aesthetic addition to the garden, in the summer it puts up flowering stalks that can get about 3 feet tall.

When this grass is mature, all the flowering stalks create an airy, wispy appearance that’s quite beautiful. The inflorescences are narrow panicles, so the spikelets are held on numerous short branches, forming a triangular shape. The seeds are round and smell like buttered popcorn when mature (really, they do smell like this!). The seeds serve as a food source for birds. In the fall, the clumps of grass turn a bronze color.

Based on a 2022 study of native plant availability, Prairie Dropseed ranks in the top 10 of most available native plants in the Midwest. Check out your local nursery to see if they have this grass, and consider adding it to your home garden! Learn more about it at


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erin Garrett is a Natural Resources, Environment, and Energy Educator for University of Illinois Extension serving Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pulaski, and Union counties. Erin develops and delivers high impact programming to adults and youth to help them develop an appreciation for natural resources and to empower them to make small changes to positively impact the environment. Erin’s programming focuses on why homeowners should consider choosing native plants, how to support native pollinators, how to identify grasses, how to identify and manage invasive species, and developing an appreciation for prairie ecosystems.