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.

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