Prairie Dropseed Grass

prairie dropseed sporobolus heterolepis ftimg

Prairie Dropseed Grass

Sporobolus heterolepis

Description & Overview

A most beautiful, warm season, clump forming native prairie grass! Prairie Dropseed Grass forms cascading tufts of emerald-green foliage with airy, popcorn scented seed heads. Excellent heat and drought tolerance makes this a great choice for tough, dry sites.

Core Characteristics

Wisconsin Native: Yes
USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3
Mature Height: 24 inches
Mature Spread: 18 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Mounded, compact
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Tolerant of many soils except consistently wet sites
Flower: Insignificant, minute white
Bloom Period: August-September
Foliage: Green
Fall Color: Yellow-Wheat
Urban Approved: Yes
Fruit Notes: Airy panicle, fragrant

Seed Provenance

Waukesha County, WI

Suggested Uses:

The tidy clump-forming habit and fine texture of Prairie Dropseed Grass makes it a great choice for a border. If using along a walkway, take care to site it at least 18” off-center to prevent its leaves from encroaching on the path. This grass can also be massed or used as a component of a dry prairie garden. It also provides good winter interest and is tolerant of snow loads, so it can tolerate less-than-ideal spaces with higher levels of traffic.

As it is tolerant of dry conditions, this is a good candidate for green roofs.

prairie dropseed sporobolus heterolepis at johnson's nursery quart #1 container spring sizes

Salable sizes QUART & #1 container. Picture taken June 1.

prairie dropseed sporobolus heterolepis at johnson's nursery quart #1 container late summer size

Salable size #1 container. Picture taken September 1.

Wildlife Value:

Prairie Dropseed Grass is used by our native bees and other insects for nesting structure and is an important component of any pollinator garden. The seeds are also a food source for native birds.

Maintenance Tips:

As it is drought tolerant, Prairie Dropseed Grass requires minimal moisture once established. During the first growing season after planting, provide occasional watering to help establish the extensive root system. You can clean up this grass in spring, before the new growth starts to push, cutting it back to 3” above soil. When cutting back this grass, be careful to not cut into the crown. You can also cut this grass back in fall if desired, but this will remove any winter interest.

prairie dropseed sporobolus heterolepis milwaukee
prairie dropseed sporobolus heterolepis waukesha

Prairie dropseed yellow-wheat fall color


Prairie Dropseed Grass has no major insect or disease problems.

Leaf Lore:

Prairie Dropseed Grass is one of our native dry prairie grasses. Its native range extends west from the Rocky Mountains to Quebec, south to Arkansas and Georgia. This warm-season grass is commonly found in areas with dry soil, but is indifferent to soil texture and will grow in clays or sands. In fall, the seeds drop from the fragrant, popcorn-scented tufts, giving this plant its common name. Although seeds are produced annually, this plant does not readily reseed in your garden and will maintain a tidy clumping habit with age.

The seed heads have a distinct scent, best described as a ‘buttered popcorn’ aroma. Don’t expect this scent to overwhelm your garden, however, as you need to be quite close to the plant to catch the fragrance.

While it can reproduce by seed, it is not particularly successful. This is a double edged sword, as it keeps the plant tidy in a landscape setting but prevents it from spreading and colonizing in disturbed areas. For best results, plant Prairie Dropseed Grass containers to ensure establishment.

Companion Plants:

As Prairie Dropseed Grass does well in spaces with dry soils, pair it with plants of similar moisture requirements. In front, use a low mounded plant like Hairy Wild Petunia or Little Goldstar Black Eyed Susan. The airy seed heads allow the use of taller plants behind, like Butterflyweed or St. John’s Wort. Prairie Dropseed can serve as both a border around the edge of a bed, or used to divide space within a bed between plants of various heights.

Prairie Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepis benchcard