Prairie dropseed

Prairie dropseed in full flower.

Prairie dropseed is a smaller prairie grass, growing only about 3 feet tall.  It has a graceful arching habit and flowers late in the season. 

"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:

Sporobolus heterolepis

All Common Names:

Prairie dropseed, Northern dropseed

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Grass,
  • Perennial

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Foundation,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk,
  • Container

Size Range:

  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Dry soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil

Season of Interest:

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

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant

Shape or Form:

  • Arching,
  • Mounded

More Information:

Size and Form

Prairie dropseed is  a clumping grass that grows 2 to 3 feet tall and has a arching, mounded shape.

Plant Care

Full sun and well-drained soils are best for this species.  Tolerant of heat and drought.

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 serious disease or insect problems.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10

Native to much of the United States and Canada.

Leaf description

The thin (1/8 to 1/16 inch wide), green leaves will grow 2-3 feet long, and will arch gracefully forming a fountain-like mound.  Fall color is golden, often with orange tones.

Flower description

Flowering occurs in late summer (usually August and September).  The tiny flowers occur on airy, branched structures.  Unlike most grasses, prairie dropseed has fragrant flowers.  The scent is often compared to buttered popcorn.  The flowers are wind pollinated.

Fruit description

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

Cultivars and their differences

“This plant is a cultivar 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."

Dwarf prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis 'Tara'):  A compact cultivar growing 18 to 24 inches tall, with a more upright habit.


Location of Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie dropseed) at the Arboretum