Native Grasses 

Big bluestem this warm seasoned perennial tallgrass has short scaly rhizomes. Coarse seed stalks reach 3 to 7 ft. Each stalk produces one or more hairy, 3 to 6 fingered ”chicken foot” spikes, typically 1½ to 4 inches long. Leaves are numerous and large usually with coarse hairs. Plants are green throughout the summer becoming rusty colored with maturity. It is a North American native occurring in all states except the far West and was the dominant species of the tallgrass prairie. It is excellent in quality, quantity and palatability. Abundance decreases quickly with frequent mowing or heavy grazing pressure, although it proves to be very resilient when pressure is removed. It is frequently seeded for prairie restoration.

Little bluestem is a warm season, perennial bunchgrass 1 to 3 feet tall. Spikelets are fuzzy and fluffy white at maturity and borne in several spicate branches which are lateral and terminal on the culms. Leaf blades are slightly folded; basal portions of stems and leaf sheaths are somewhat flattened and hairless, unlike big bluestem. Foliage reddens at maturity. Little bluestem often exists in nearly pure stands. Little bluestem is a tallgrass prairie increaser and a mixed prairie decreaser. Livestock and hoofed wildlife graze new shoots around the edge of older little bluestem plants. This selective grazing, under moderate use, may cause the erroneous conclusion that the little bluestem is not grazed. Little bluestem is nutritious and readily eaten when immature. Across most of the state it is a valued summer forage and is also used occasionally for hay. Little bluestem is often seeded with other native grasses for erosion control, grazing, and to provide nesting, roosting, and cover for upland game birds.

Buffalograss is a warm season perennial shortgrass and one of the few to reproduce by above ground stems called stolons and below ground stems called rhizomes. It is also unusual in that male and female flowers are usually produced on different plants. Female plants produce seed burs on short stems close to the ground and directly above the leaves. Male spikes, looking like miniature seed heads of blue grama, appear on thin stalks above the leaves, typically not taller than six inches. Leaves are hairy and curly. Vegetative buffalograss is not always discernible from blue grama with which it often grows. Blue grama tends to be less hairy and seldom produces stolons. Buffalograss increases under heavy grazing pressure. Once established it forms a tight sod. Due to its drought resistance and soil cover it is favored for erosion control and low water lawns. The variety Bowie produces the best lawn and Bison the best pasture.

Blue grama This short warm season perennial is sod-like, spreading from basal tillers with plants that range from 4-18 inches tall. Seed heads each bear 1-3 comb shaped, one sided spicate branches, bluish purple when young and straw colored when mature. In contrast to sideoats grama and hairy grama, blue grama leaf blades are nearly without hairs, having non along the leaf margins. It reaches greatest prominence on drier sites and does best in fine textured, relatively deep soils of rolling uplands. Blue grama is a common associate of buffalograss, sideoats grama, and western wheatgrass. It can create shortgrass sod with grazing pressure, replacing more productive mid and tallgrasses, often eventually giving way to buffalograss. Although normally low in productivity, it is nutritious and palatable to stock and wildlife. Blue grama is finding favor for mixtures with buffalograss in low maintenance lawns.
Sideoats grama is a warm season midgrass, moderately rhizomatous perennial, commonly 8 to 24 inches tall. Its distinctive inflorescence consists of short one-sided spikes, ¼ to 5/8 inches long, which hang downward along one side of the flower stalk. Leaf blades are normally flat with stiff hairs along the edges. With curing, basal leaves curl and dry to a brownish-white. The entire plant may take on a light reddish appearance late in the summer and fall. In the northern Great Plains it is found in many upland plant communities, often with western wheatgrass, blue grama, or little bluestem. It is especially common on weakly developed calcareous and fine textured soils. Although it is a sod-forming grass, the short, scaly rhizomes often give the plant a bunchy appearance. Sideoats grama is relished by livestock and grazing wildlife. Where it grows with little bluestem, sideoats grama usually increases with grazing pressure, but with prolonged heavy grazing it may give way to blue grama or invading forbs. It is not as drought tolerant as blue grama. Upland birds feed on Sideoats grama seed. It is commonly used in seed mixtures to restore native rangelands.

Indiangrass is a warm season, perennial tallgrass, 2 to 6 feet; it is bunchy with short rhizomes. Rather dense, golden-yellowish, lance shaped panicles are 4 to 12 inches long on erect culms. Leaves are rather stiff and straight, arising from the stems at acute angles. Prominent vertical projections are located on both sides of the Ligule. Leaves are lighter green than those of big bluestem, a common associate in deep soils of the eastern Great Plains.

Indiangrass is a favorite native forage of grazing livestock and makes excellent hay if cut before flower stalks develop, producing almost as much hay as big bluestem. It has been seeded with other native tallgrasses in eastern fields for erosion control, grazing and grassland restoration. Seeds are used sparingly by upland game birds, finches, juncos, field and tree sparrows.

Green needlegrass is a cool-season, perennial bunchgrass varying from 18 to 36 inches tall. Panicles are somewhat compact. Awns are usually twice bent, somewhat curly when mature, and roughly 1 inch long. Florets turn dark brown and shiny when ripe. Leaves are often rolled, thread-like toward the tip, 4 to 12 inches long, glabrous, and with prominent veins above. The ligule can be a smooth or hairy membrane.

This grass is an abundant native of the Northern Great Plains and grows on medium to fine textured soils reaching its greatest prominence in high seral status ranges. On medium textured soils, green needlegrass grows with western wheatgrass, needleandthread and blue grama. On finer textured soils needleandthread drops out, and on even finer soils blue grama disappears, leaving green needlegrass and western wheatgrass as dominants.

Green needlegrass is also called feather bunchgrass, is nutritious, palatable and decreases under grazing use. Awns are not troublesome to livestock as other needlegrasses. It is often used for revegetation. Grazing wildlife consumes green needlegrass; birds and rodents feed on the seed.

Prairie sandreed is a warm-season, perennial sod grass, with flowering culms to heights of 2 to 5 feet. Stems arise singly from strong scaly rootstocks. The inflorescence is a narrow panicle of erect branches, pale green or tan, smooth, and 6 to 18 inches long. Spikelets are 1 flowered; florets have a basal ring of white hairs half the length of the lemma. Each culm has 10 to 12 coarse leaves, with rigid, flat to in rolled blades 15 to 24 inches long, tapering to a fine point. Rhizomes are extensive, horizontally creeping, pale whitish stout, scaly, shiny, with the tips sharp pointed much like a rooster’s spur.

It is not extensively abundant, since it is restricted to sandy soils and shales. Because of its numerous rhizomes and drought resistance it is an effective soil stabilizer. Where present, it commonly occurs in large patches.

Prairie sandreed, also called prairie sandgrass, is not particularly palatable during the growing season, but it cures well on the ground and makes good winterfeed for cattle. Prairie sandreed is considered a decreaser but will increase for a time with heavy grazing pressure or if it is planted with big bluestem and sand bluestem.

Reed canary grass is a coarse cool-season, perennial sod grass from 2 to 8 feet tall. Seed Heads are narrow; the contracted panicle is 3 to 6 inches long and green to purplish. Spikelet’s are 1 flowered; florets are firm and shiny, gray to gray-brown, shattering quickly with maturity. Leaves are broad, lax and glabrous. The ligule is membranous and prominent. Short scaly rhizomes form a dense sod. It is native in temperate and moist climates, naturally occupying wet low lands where it can form dense colonies; it is also adapted to uplands with 20 or more inches of precipitation. In the drier northern Great Plains it naturally occurs in the more eastern parts and in the Black Hills but is also cultivated with irrigation. Natural stands occur around marshes, ponds, and along streams, as well as on deep-soil uplands of the eastern part. In the 1990’s reed canary grass has colonized new areas in eastern South Dakota as a result of successive years of high precipitation. Although Reeds furnishes high yields of good quality hay or silage, it is used mainly for pastures and waterway conservation. It is extremely valuable for seeding in drainage areas subject to flooding. Old plant residue limits palatability. Earliness, good regrowth and high nutritive value make it valuable perennial forage. Reed canary grass provides shelter and forage for deer, rabbits, small mammals, rodents and birds. Seeds are ate by many songbirds and pheasants.

Switchgrass is a tall, warm season, perennial sod grass. Rather large tear-drop-shaped spikelets are borne in open panicles 6 to 18 inches long on coarse stems up to 40 inches tall. Identification is simplified by a V-shaped patch of hair on the upper surface of the leaf blade near the stem. Leaves up to 2 feet long are abundant. Tight large clumps form from numerous scaly rhizomes. A native decrease, Switch grass grows in greatest abundance in the uplands and lowlands of the Tall grass Prairie. In native stands, Switch grass grows in proximity to big bluestem, prairie cord grass, Canada wild rye and Indian grass. Farming and grazing have decreased Switch grass. It is the favored grass for seeding warm-season upland pastures in central and eastern South Dakota. When used in Prairie restoration, other tall grasses and forbs are included, although not as palatable as some grasses, Switch grass is consumed by livestock as long as stems are green. It is extremely productive with controlled grazing and with careful management; Switch grass makes excellent yields of good quality hay. It provides excellent cover for nesting birds and usually remains standing in winter to serve as good winter cover. Birds make some use of the seed.

Slender wheatgrass, a cool season, perennial bunchgrass 2 to 4 feet tall, takes its name from the spicate inflorescence that tends to be narrower than those of other common wheatgrasses. Glumes are almost as long as the entire spikelet and are prominently nerved. Both glumes and lemmas are generally without hair. Leaf blades are flat and usually glabrous. Leaves and stems are often purplish tinted. Two forms are generally recognized, beardless, with short awns less than ¼ and bearded, with long awns of ¼ to 1 inch. Slender wheatgrass is common in a variety of grasslands, including those in the Black Hills. It is usually scattered but often abundant in the grasslands of the glaciated northeastern plains. Since it is short lived it is seldom planted to pure stands. In localized areas, slender wheatgrass is sufficiently abundant to be very important. Considered to be a decrease palatability reports are conflicting, in some areas it is relished by livestock and wildlife.

Western wheatgrass is a cool season, perennial sod-forming grass with strong rhizomes. Spikes 1 to 6 inches long are elevated on stiff flowering culms 12 to 30 inches tall. Spikelets are usually single at spike nodes, but there can be 2 per node on vigorous plants with ample moisture. Leaves are stiff, strongly ribbed on the upper surface, glabrous, flat when growing and rolled when dry. Clasping auricles are often purple. Stems and leaves are distinctively glucose, as in intermediate wheatgrass. Western Wheatgrass is a major range grass in the northern and central Great Plains, frequently in nearly pure stand son clayey soils, although it does grow on sandy soils. It is moderately alkali tolerant. It is the most abundant grass in most of the South Dakota mixed prairie. In 1970 legislative action designated western wheatgrass as the state grass of South Dakota, an honor it shares in North Dakota and Wyoming. It is palatable and nutritious when growing and moderately so the rest of the year. Elk, antelope, and deer use it. Grouse nest in western wheatgrass communities. Grouse, pheasants and songbirds feed on its seeds, as do rabbits.

Canada wildrye is a cool season, short-lived perennial, tufted grass (rarely with short rhizomes), and 2 to 5 feet tall with a drooping spike at the end of the culm. Several, few seeded spikelets may arise at a single node of the spike. Lemmas have long awns curving outward at maturity. Leaves are broad, 4 to 10 inches long, and with large auricles, Heads and leaves turn russet to tan as plants cure in late summer. Distribution of this native is extensive throughout Canada, across the United States excluding only a few southeastern states, and into northern Mexico. In the more humid eastern parts of the Great Plains, it can be found on prairie uplands, whereas in semi-arid central and western parts it is confined to stream banks and shaded or otherwise relatively wet areas. When moisture conditions are favorable, Canada wild rye will grow throughout the summer or regrow in the autumn. Although other wild ryes occur in the state, this one is the most abundant. It is best adapted to medium textured soils but will grow in most soils of both prairie and forest. It is seldom abundant but forage value when green and growing is rated good for cattle and horses and fair for sheep and wildlife.

Russian wildrye, a cool season, perennial bunchgrass, grows 2 to 4 feet tall. Bunches can become quite large and remain distinct. Plants produce an abundance of basal leaves, while the upright seed-producing stalks have few leaves. Seed heads are a compact spike, with only short awns on the lemma. Russian wild rye has a range of adaptation similar to that of crested wheatgrass. Unlike crested wheatgrass, Russian wild rye seldom moves out of pastures where it has been seeded. It is used to a limited extent in the northern Great Plains as an early spring pasture forage. It is a strong competitor, lasts for years without reseeding and grows well with alfalfa. It has good nutritive qualities over a long season, showing late summer regrowth and good drought tolerance. It is valuable for grazing from early spring through early winter. In tests it is often more productive than native range. Russian wild rye with its basally concentrated leaves is not good for hay production. Historically, stands have been difficult to establish, limiting its use. That problem may have been largely overcome with recent Canadian selections for seedling vigor.

Native Grasses 

Big Bluestem

  Canaday Wild Rye 

  Sand Love Grass

  Little Bluestem

  Green Needle

  Indian Grass

 Side Oats Grama

 Western Wheatgrass

 Buffalo Grass

 Slender Wheatgrass


  Call for any varieties not listed!