Sporobolus heterolepis, commonly known as prairie dropseed, is a species of prairie grass native to the tallgrass and mixed grass prairies of central North America from Texas to southern Canada. It is also found further east, all the way to the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada, but is much less common beyond the Great Plains and is restricted to specialized habitats. It is found in 27 states and 4 Canadian provinces.
Prairie dropseed is a perennial bunchgrass whose mound of leaves is typically from 1 to 2 ft (30 to 60 cm) high and 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm) across. Its flowering stems (culms) grow from 1 1⁄2 to 3 ft (45 to 90 cm) tall, extending above the leaves.
The flower cluster is an airy panicle 3 to 8 in (8 to 20 cm) long with many branches. They terminate in small spikelets, which each contain a single fertile floret. When it blooms, the floret has three reddish anthers and a short feathery stigma. If it is pollinated, the floret produces a nearly round seed 1.5 to 2 mm (0.06 to 0.08 in) long.
At the base of the spikelet are two bracts (glumes), one of them 4 to 6 mm (0.16 to 0.24 in) long and the other 2 to 4 mm (0.08 to 0.16 in) long. The bracts each are long and tapered, with sharply pointed tips. Around the floret are a lemma and palea, each about 3.5 to 5.5 mm (0.14 to 0.22 in) long, though the palea is sometimes longer than the lemma.
Prairie dropseed is a fine-textured grass with long, narrow leaves that arch outward, forming attractive round tufts. The leaves range in color from a rich green hue in summer to a golden rust complexion in the fall. Foliage is resilient enough to resist flattening by snow, so it provides year-round interest. From late July to mid-September, the grass blooms with rusty-tan flowers that rise 30 to 36 inches in height.
It occurs in a wide range of soils, doing well in moist to dry conditions. It is much less common in wetlands.
Prairie dropseed is used for roadside revegetation and prairie restoration projects. It is difficult to establish by direct seeding. Transplanting greenhouse grown seedlings is a more effective method of establishing prairie dropseed.
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- "Sporobolus heterolepis". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
- "Sporobolus heterolepis". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014.
- Hilty, John (2016). "Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)". Illinois Wildflowers.
- Chayka, Katy; Dziuk, Peter (2016). "Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie Dropseed)". Minnesota Wildflowers.
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