FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Sporobolus airoides is a petite warm season bunch grass. Plants form attractive mounds of slender gray-green arching leaves. In late spring one or more culms rises above the foliage bearing airy panicles of pinkish spikelets. The florets mature into small globe shaped grains that quickly fall to the earth. This tough grass can survive seasonal flooding or prosper in harsh dry desert or prairie-like settings. Plants also thrive in sunny gardens with dry to average soils.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Sporobolus airoides occurs in British Columbia, through most of the western United States and into northern and central Mexico.
Plants are indigenous to sea coasts, saline flats, sandy or gravelly alkaline slopes, grasslands, savannas, saline flats, desert shrub communities, floodplains and other moist to mesic alkaline habitats. This species tolerates flooding and extreme drought.
This grass is hardy from USDA Zones 4-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Sporobolus airoides is a tufted perennial grass with narrow fine textured leaves. Plants hold soil with their deep fibrous roots. They expand slowly from tillers or offsets that emerge from the crown.
Multiple erect stems with tough thick bases emerge from the crown. The stems are clothed in pubescent linear silvery-gray leaves. The blades are either flat or rolled and about 1/8” wide and 24” long.
By mid-summer, culms sport open airy panicles. The panicles are up to 16” long with pyramidal silhouettes. The individual spikelets are yellow with purple bases.
The florets transition into pinkish, silvery or golden tan globe shaped grain-like seed that fall to the ground or are forcibly expelled when the seed husk dries. Seed are often dispersed by running water and germinate after settling into sediment deposits.
Flowering plants attain 4’ height with 2’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Sporobolus airoides prospers in sunny sites with dry gravelly or average soil. This species flourishes in sites that are moist but not saturated with water.
Plants tolerate part shade, drought, seasonal flooding, sand, loam, clay, alkaline, salty and caliche type soils.
LANDSCAPE USES: Sporobolus airoides is a lovely Accent, Grouping or Mass for a Xeriscape, Meadow or Prairie Garden. Plants provides Erosion Control, Cut Flowers and Fall Color and are appropriate for Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Rock Gardens, Roadsides and Restoration Projects.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Asclepias verticillata, Echinacea pallida, Eryngium yuccifolium, Monarda punctata, Solidago rigida and Schizachrium scoparium.
Sporobolis heterolepis is similar in appearance and cultural needs. It is more cold hardy and would be a good substitute in northern regions.
TRIVIA: Sporobolis airoides is browsed by wildlife and livestock. The tender growth is good forage but plants languish if heavily grazed. Plants provide cover for wildlife and seed for birds.
This species was once known as Agrostis airoides.
Sporobolis is from Greek words meaning "seed", and "throw" and refers to the dispersion of seeds.
The common name name refers to the preference for alkaline soil and “sacaton” is from the Aztec word for grass.
The presence of Sporobolis airoides is thought to indicate that potable water is a few feet from the surface.