Indian grass

Indian grass in late summer.

Indian grass is one of the grasses of the tallgrass prairie and is native to much of North America.  It is a warm season, clumping grass.  Flowering occurs in late summer but the plant remains attractive into winter.  "This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."  

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.


Botanical name:

Sorghastrum nutans

All Common Names:

Indian grass, wood grass, yellow Indian grass

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Grass,
  • Perennial

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Container,
  • Foundation,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border

Size Range:

  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil

Season of Interest:

  • Early winter,
  • Mid winter,
  • Late winter,
  • Late spring,
  • Early summer,
  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer,
  • Early fall,
  • Mid fall,
  • Late fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Yellow

Shape or Form:

  • Upright

More Information:

Size and Form

Indian grass can grow as tall as 8 feet, but 6 feet is more common in cultivation.  It is a warm season, clumping grass with an upright habit.

Plant Care

Full sun and well drained soils are best for this grass.  It can tolerate wet sites as well as sandy soils.  Fairly drought tolerant once established.

This is a warm season grass, so its most active growth occurs in summer.  It will remain standing in winter and can act as winter interest.
Since this grass remains attractive through winter, it should not be cut back until early spring, before new growth begins.  At that time, it can be cut down to the ground.

Disease, pests, and problems

No common pest problems.  Indian grass can reseed itself and made lead to excess unwanted plants.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 5

Native to most of North America.

Leaf description

The green leaves are up to 2 feet long and 1/4 inch wide.  Fall color can vary from yellow to orange.

Flower description

Flowering occurs in late summer.  The tiny, yellow to bronze-colored flowers occur on moderately dense clusters held above the foliage.  The flowers are wind pollinated.

Fruit description

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the clusters that held the flowers.

Cultivars and their differences 

“These plants are cultivars of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits."

Indian Steel (Sorghastrum nutans 'Indian Steel'): Blue-green foliage that turns bronze in autumn.

Sioux Blue (Sorghastrum nutans 'Sioux Blue'): Blue-gray foliage; fall color is yellow changing to orange.


Location of Sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass) at the Arboretum