Simply The Best Natives-Northern Sea Oats


Texture and foliage keep a garden interesting through the season.  Flowers are just moments of gratification.  ~Kevin Doyle



I have a patch of grasses just off the patio that face the morning sun.  When the sun comes up, it shines through the grasses making them glow.  And on a dewy morning, the grasses appear to glitter like diamonds.  You can find me spending  hours every morning mesmerized by their beauty.

I take oodles of pictures of these grasses throughout all four seasons.  In spring, the new green growth is magnificent as it brightens the almost barren garden.  When the seeds or flowers appear in summer, they transform the grasses and put on a show.  By the fall, the flower stalks change colors along with the grass foliage adding another dimension to the garden.  And then all winter I watch the swaying grasses sparkle with snow and ice playing against the backdrop of all that white.

My favorite grass of the group is the native Chasmanthium latifolium or Northern Sea Oats.  It is part of the Grass Family (Poaceae), and also goes by these other common names:

Inland sea oats, Indian wood oats, Wild oats, River oats, Flathead oats, Upland Oats

obj1512geo823pg2p10As I profile this wonderful native grass, I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme.

And I am also joining forces with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to purchase plants for my garden, like the one I am profiling in this post.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.




Growing Conditions

I love the look of Northern Sea Oats as the leaves remind me of bamboo and form a nice large clump.  It generally grows in zone 5-9, and reaches heights of 3-4 feet in moist sandy, loamy or clay soil.  IMG_3223This grass is great for part shade to shady areas that are also poorly draining.  How can you not love a plant that grows in some of the worst conditions.   The fabulous “seeds” start to sprout in June, and fully develop by late summer drooping from slender branches.

One thing to remember is not to plant this grass in full sun as it turns more yellow than green in too much sun.  Of course if you have a very wet area in sun, then this plant will tolerate more sun.  My boggy area is sunny and very wet so perhaps I will try a few volunteers of this plant there.  Also I have some wet shady areas in the meadow that might like this grass. 

Northern Sea Oats also seems to not need much if any staking if grown in ideal conditions.  It has no insect or DSCN2162disease problems and it tolerates growing under black walnut trees.

This plant can be propagated by seeds or root divisions.  Seeds can be collected in fall or you can let them fall naturally as they will germinate and grow easily.  The one thing to be cautious about is this plant can spread aggressively.  To minimize this, you can cut the seeds off and leave the foliage for winter interest and to protect the crown from the cold.  I love to leave the seeds in winter for critters and for winter interest, and cut the plant back in the spring. Then I easily dig up any volunteers I find popping up.




Benefits to Wildlife

IMG_2932This grass is not usually browsed by rabbits or deer.  Although small animals and birds do eat the seeds.  Birds also like the stem and leaves for nests, and the foliage provides cover for animals.

Northern Sea Oats is said to attract butterflies as it is the larval host plant for Pepper-and-salt Skipper, Bell’s Roadside-Skipper and Bronze Roadside-Skipper.  I have not noticed any butterflies frequenting the plant, but I plan to pay special attention to it this year as I  have many Skippers in the garden including Pepper-and-salt Skippers.




Where Are They Found

This native grass grows throughout eastern North America and into the midwest and down to Texas and throughout IMG_4086the southwest.  You will see it in woods, rocky slopes and along streams.

In some references, I have found Northern Sea Oats only listed from Pennsylvania and NJ south.  But depending on the source, this plant is also listed as a New York native.    So I do grow this plant as I suspect we are part of its northern territory especially the closer you are to Pennsylvania.





Northern Sea Oats has great uses in and out of the garden.  As I mentioned above the foliage and seeds provides great interest and texture all year round.  The color change in the oat-like seeds and foliage is stunning, and I love the rustling sound and the movement of the seed heads in the softest of breezes.

DSCN3158It works great at the edge of water gardens, perfect for shade gardens and a must in your native plant garden.  If you have an erosion problem area, this plant works great to help control the erosion especially on slopes.

Another great use is in arrangements.  The foliage and seed-heads add a great look to floral arrangements.  I plan to cut more native plants from my garden this year and will definitely use this plant in those arrangements.




Folklore and Tales

There is little folklore about this plant.  I could find no medicinal uses especially among Native Americans.IMG_3910

But Native Americans tribes as far south as Mexico, are said to have stored the seeds for later use especially in winter.  They dried and ground the seeds and made them into mush.  The ground seeds were also used to make bread.


Do you grow any native grasses in your garden?  What’s your favorite ornamental grass?



Whether its color, texture, shape, an intriguing silhouette, or just plain all-around good looks, foliage perennials have plenty to offer.  ~Larry Hodgson




1901406_10202382936629346_803312033_nRecently on Facebook, Kylee Baumle@Our Little Acre had a Farewell To Winter Party.  Lots of folks posted comments and pictures of winter, spring flowers and we were chatting about the last blast of snow that was hitting many of us.  At one point there were over 400 people who had joined in, and many folks had donated books they authored or seeds, garden tools and other prizes from great companies.  The party lasted from morning until almost midnight with prizes given away hourly.  I had tried all day to win something and had almost given up when I saw my name pop up with this prize.

Isn’t it great.  It was one of the coveted prizes being given away that day, and this was donated by the creator; Jan@Two Women and a Hoe.  The planter is called the Implant Lady, and boy does she have great potential.  I promised everyone that once I get her planted for spring and summer, that I would post pictures on Facebook and my blog.  I want to thank Kylee for a great idea and perfect way to while away the snowy day as we dreamed about our gardens.  And thank you Jan for donating this fabulous creation.  The Implant Lady will have a prominent spot in my garden.



Next up on the blog:  Next Monday I will have a special post about phenology in my garden.  Also I will feature the tree I am following next Thursday as April flows in with spring-like weather, I hope!

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Tuesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden.  Next post is April 1st.

I can also be found blogging once a month at Vision and Verb.  My next post is March 27th.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.sharethelove

I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2014.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.



65 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Northern Sea Oats”

  1. First of all, your Implant Lady win is a riot. I LOVE her. How fun she will be to dress up, so I’m eager to see future pictures of her.

    I’m not familiar with this particular sea-oats grass, Donna, but can see why you love it. I especially like the idea of using the seeds for bread, as the Native Americans did. That’s very cool, since Astrid and I have a bread machine and love to make our own bread. 🙂

  2. The implant lady is such fun, if you plant something that trails she will look like a fountain! Or perhaps you want her to look more perky! Sounds like a fun way to spend a snowy day! I’ll have to think of something like this for the drought period. My favourite grass? Miscanthus sin. ‘Morning Light’ ticks all the boxes.

    1. That is a lovely miscanthus Christina especially in the light. The Lady will be fun to plant…maybe a bit perky in spring and more trailing in summer and fall….we shall see what i come up with!!

  3. Thank you so much, Donna! I was overjoyed when I learned you won The Implant Lady! I cannot wait to see what you do with her!

    My favorite ornamental grass is Karley Rose!

    May all your gardens grow,

    1. I love Karley Rose as well Jan and have her in my back garden..she is gorgeous in winter. Jan I love your Lady creation and can’t wait to plant her up for spring!!

  4. Yes, the implant lady sure does have potential!
    Northern sea oats is my favourite grass because of the seed heads. However, the last couple of years when we’ve had more rain than usual, it has been sprouting up all over the place in my clay soil.
    I also like prairie drop seed, a nice clump of arching grass blades.

    1. Judith, I have wanted to plant prairie dropseed and I think it is on my wish list. But I will make sure it is. I have had N Sea Oats seeding quite a bit when I had it in a wetter spot, but now in a drier spot it seeds less. But I would love it to seed in my meadow.

  5. I feel like this morning is “let’s highlight plants on Kathy’s wishlist!” I would love to plant this. I have hesitated because I really am Z4 and with a winter like this one, any Z5s are goners. I think this would be perfect in my new section Hosta Row! I also love grasses. My favorite native so far in my garden is Indian Grass. It is a beauty!

    1. Kathy how wonderful this is on your wish list….it should work in your garden…depending on the source, it is said to be hardy down to zone 3. I would be happy to give you some volunteers. I will add Indian grass to my wish list as I hope to add more native grasses to the garden.

  6. The Implant Lady is pure genius and fun to boot!
    So glad you won her. I really enjoyed Jan’s website–what an elegant site and a moving story about the origins of her business. I have to admit I don’t have a favorite grass, so I’ll just enjoy yours!

  7. I love Northern sea oats too, even though it’s not native to the PNW. For whatever reason, it doesn’t seed around my garden. I’ve never found a single seedling. Maybe it doesn’t like our long wet winters. I grow Panicums too, another great native grass that I love.

  8. I love grasses so much–I think movement is often overlooked in garden planning, and nothing gives shape to the wind better than grasses. Your sea oats have such beautiful seed heads. My favorite grass here is the Chihuahuan desert “silky threadgrass” (Nasella tenuissima). Designers complain it’s “overused,” whatever that means, but it’s a low-water grass that works great in my part-sun conditions, so I’m happy to use it! I hope you can truly say “Farewell to Winter” here shortly!

    1. Stacy I love Nasella tenuissima and the way it glows in the sun…a great native for you. Natives can never be overused in my opinion. Glad you enjoyed the N Sea Oats. We are slated to have about a weeks worth of 40s and a few 50s starting tomorrow…so I think spring may finally arrive.

  9. Love your photos of this grass. I planted a very small one last autumn and am waiting for it to show signs of life! It has a sunny spot in my garden, but I love browns and yellows in late summer, so I’m sure I won’t miss the green fading quickly.

  10. Native grasses are so underrated. They provide something so different to the landscape . Northern oats is unique and I agree a awesome choice. I also enjoy bottle brush grass for its shape. , switch grass for its color, Indian grass for its consistency , and little & big blue stem for its contrast in color & shape. Native grasses provide seed for wildlife but for me they are the ‘ rock of the flower bed !

  11. Donna, though not a native here norther sea oats sounds perfect for my damp meadow, because I am so far north (58 degrees) and we do not get hot summers (recently barely warm) I have found shade plants will grow well in sunny places here, thanks for the info on this beautiful grass, I’ve seen photos of it and seen it listed on nursery webpages, Frances

    1. Your garden always fascinates me Frances due to your unique climate…I hope you plant this grass. You will love it in your meadow!!

  12. The grasses are beautiful, I love the way you described them.. Any plant that attracts birds and butterflies is wonderful to me..Thanks for sharing the info. Have a happy day!

    1. Thank you Eileen and so glad you enjoyed the Sea Oats…it is a special plant!! Hope you are having a great week.

  13. I am a big fan of Northern Sea Oats. I have them in my garden and I’ve heard they can spread aggressively but that hasn’t been my experience (yet). They are beautiful when back lit. I didn’t know they were a host plant for species of skippers…I learned something new today, Thanks!

    1. Outstanding Karin that you have this beauty and that you learned something new. Hope your garden is blooming with lots of flowers and critters.

  14. I never heard of this…so, thanks to you sharing, I learned something new. Awesome images too, by the way. And for you to describe them as liking to bamboo, I would love to add this to my garden/yard somewhere.

  15. Implant lady is so witty. Beautifully written post again, Donna. I’m looking for grasses for the meadow. I don’t want anything that will go soggy and fall over into a clump in our wet winter. I might try the Northern oats beside our drainage ditch as long as they stablized the bank and did not grow into the ditch and block it.

  16. Your posts are always so informative Donna. Northern Sea Oats is a beautiful grass. It seems to do well in my garden, but never makes it through winter. I have tried twice now, and sadly it always dies. I am not sure if it is not hardy here or I just haven’t provided enough drainage. I wish I knew because, I really like this particular grass. Congratulations on your win and prize. It is wonderfully whimsical.

    1. Wow Jennifer that is sad. Some sources say it is hardy to zone 3 and I know Judith has it growing so I wonder if it is too wet. So glad you liked the post!

  17. Congrats on the Implant Lady! How fun. I’ve been meaning to plant Northern Sea Oats for several years, based on your recommendation and that of other gardeners. But to-date I just haven’t found the right spot. But the picture is becoming clearer to me now. I really love this plant, and the fact that it’s native and loves shade makes it seem like a good fit here. Thanks, Donna.

  18. I was given some seeds from Tina @ InTheGarden…but they never ‘took’. I just don’t think I have the right conditions for this beauty. But it looks lovely…and you’ve written a wonderful review. 🙂

    1. Oh that is too bad Jan. Perhaps a starter plant in moist part shade might still take. Glad you enjoyed the review!!

  19. Sea Oats are incredible in dry shade. I have mine growing in the meanest dry shade in the my garden and they’re thriving. But I also have the variegated cultivar ‘River Mist’ and it needs a lot of water and rich soil. It’s also a much slower grower than the species. This summer will be its third year so I’m hoping it finally takes off and fills in its spot.

    1. That’s why I love native plants as they thrive in so many conditions. Mine thrive in dry and wet shade but seem to seed more the wetter they are. Hoping your ‘River Mist’ does grow more this year.

  20. I love River Oats! It’s a beauty in all the seasons and I don’t mind finding a few seedlings to move to spots that can use the movement and grace of this native grass. Wonderful writeup! gail

    1. Thank you Gail…glad you enjoyed the profile. Like you I let the volunteers grow and then I move them around or just leave them to add beauty to the garden.

  21. OOOoooh Gurl! I couldn’t agree MORE!! I frequently recommend Northern Sea Oats to people who complain nothing will grow in their shady conditions… especially to people who are trapped in the hosta/heuchera corner. The versatility of this plant simply astounds me: Their beauty, versatility and ability to “play” with light never ceases to amaze!

    1. Ah so you know their secret well Christienne….I hope more folks will find the magic of Sea Oats in their garden!!

    1. Thanks Donna it means a lot from such a great photographer as you…yes the Implant Lady will be fun to play with this garden season!!

  22. LOVE sea oats. I have discovered that they will stop the spread of stilt (an exotic bully) grass. I am wondering if it can also stop the growth of bamboo. I have a stand of bamboo that I want to get rid of, so I am going to try it.

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