Prairie Dropseed: An All-Purpose Prairie Plant

Prairie Dropseed
Once prairie dropseed is established, it is a very low-maintenance plant that will reach 2-3 feet in height.

By Addie Hatch 
Reiman Gardens 
Iowa State University

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) is a prairie plant native to North America that will add softness to any home garden, especially around a border. Other suitable planting areas include rock gardens, prairies and pastures, and along roadsides. It has a low, fountain-like appearance, with leaves that fall gracefully towards the ground. Plains Indians used the seeds to make flour and birds seek the seeds as food.  

This plant can survive in many growing conditions, but is best grown in full sun and well-drained soil, in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9. Prairie dropseed will reach 2-3 feet at full height, with an 18-24 inch spread. The green leaves can reach up to 20 inches long, but are only an 1/8 inch wide. The plant has tan flowers that bloom in August and September and emit an aroma similar to popcorn. In the fall, the plant turns a golden yellow.

When this plant is grown from seed, it may take up to five years before it will become established. After planting the seeds in fall or early spring, they must receive approximately one inch of water or rain per week during the first growing season. It is important to keep the soil moist for the young seedlings. However, if transplants are used, water only until they take root. Once prairie dropseed is established, it is very low-maintenance and even drought tolerant, only needing the dried grass removed once in late winter or early spring. 

Prairie dropseed currently can be seen in the Conservatory at Iowa State University’s Reiman Gardens.

Contacts :
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,
Addie Hatch, Reiman Gardens, (515) 294-2710

One photo is available for this column. 8805prairiedropseed.jpg