FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Chasmanthium latifolium is a clump forming perennial warm season grass. In spring several slender unbranched culms rise from the underground rhizomes or elongate from winter rosettes. The culms bear light green spear shaped leaf blades. The culms terminate in a panicle of flat drooping spikelets that are reminiscent of sea oats. The individual spikelets are about 1” long and very mobile due to their slender supporting stalks. This warm season grass thrives in partial sun and moist soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Chasmanthium latifolium occurs in the eastern United States from Pennsylvania to Florida and west to Wisconsin and Texas.
Plants are indigenous to river banks and river floodplains, alluvial meadows, stream and creek banks, limestone glades, open moist woods and borders of moist woodlands.
This grass is hardy from USDA Zones 5-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Chasmanthium latifolium is an unbranched cool season perennial grass. Plants hold soil with their vigorous fibrous roots and expand into colonies from underground rhizomes.
This grass has light green lanceolate leaves that are reminiscent of bamboo. Blades are up to 10” long and only 1” wide. Foliage may turn a coppery color in autumn before assuming a golden brown winter aspect.
By mid-summer, culms sport unique flower clusters that are described botanically as “spike-like panicles”. The panicles are loose with arching thread-like stems. They are held above the leaves dancing in the slightest breeze.
The panicle consists of 7-20 flat greenish spikelets that dangle to one side of the culm. Each spikelet is scaly, oval and about 1” long. As the flowers transition into seed they morph into light tan pendant oat-like clusters.
Plants attain 3-4’ height with a 2-3’ spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Chasmanthium latifolium prospers in sun or part shade.
Plants prefer moist fertile soil but tolerate average, wet, loamy, clay or rocky soils.
This grass self-sows vigorously and unwanted volunteers may become a problem in small gardens. If this is an issue, deadhead or harvest stems for flower arrangements before seed are ripe.
In cultivated situations, plants should be cut back to the basal rosette in early spring. Foliage should be retained over winter because it insulates and protects the plant, enhances cold hardiness and adds winter interest.
LANDSCAPE USES: Useful as an Accent, Groundcover or for Erosion Control. Chasmanthium latifolium is often planted as part of a Grouping or Mass. It is used as a Butterfly Host Plant and Cut Flower and provides Showy Blooms and Winter Interest. Plants are appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Rain Gardens, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Roadsides, Wetlands and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing with Asclepias tuberosa, Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida, and Schizachrium scoparium.
Bouteloua curtipendula is similar in appearance. It is more tolerant of drought and less tolerant of shade but can be substituted in some situations.
TRIVIA: Chasmanthium latifolium is larval host to caterpillars of Northern Pearly Eye Butterflies and several species of Skippers. Plants provide cover for birds and seed for small mammals and granivorous birds.
This is one of the most shade tolerant ornamental grasses.
This species was formerly known as Uniola latifolia.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CHLA5