Monday, April 27, 2015

Add Sparkle with Spangle Grass

Chasmanthium latifolium is known by many common names—river oats, wood oats, Indian wood oats, wild oats, northern sea oats, upland sea oats, inland sea oats, flathead oats, upland oats, broadleaf uniola—but to me the most apt and evocative of all its names is spangle grass. This is a plant with a whole lot of flash.

In fall, it lights up a semi-shady spot with bright, coppery, oat-like seedheads that twinkle in the sunlight and flutter with every breeze. The seedheads also provide much-needed winter interest in the garden. After they’ve glittered their way through autumn, they persist—faded, ethereal, ghostlike—until spring.

A lot of grasses that really show off in fall and winter seem to like to take a backseat in summer. Well, spangle grass doesn’t do that. It’s eye-catching all year round. In the warm months its soft, bamboo-like leaves create a tropical effect. The leaves are lime-green in full sun and darker green in shade. Spangle grass is graceful and arching, loose and airy, and usually grows about thigh-high. Dangling pale green flowers appear in May or June.

Spangle grass occurs naturally in moist woodlands from Florida west to Arizona and north to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. A common component of mature bottomland hardwood forests, it is often found growing in isolated patches along streams.

In the wild, spangle grass provides cover and nesting spots for everything from turkeys and quail to rabbits, voles, and mice. Turkeys, wood ducks, and many other birds feast on the abundant seeds.

In the garden, spangle grass can be used in mass plantings or as a specimen. A clump here or there makes a great accent, especially near a water feature. The grass also works well in tubs and other large containers. Pair it with black-eyed Susans or native asters for extra dazzle in fall. The soft texture of spangle grass provides a welcome contrast to stiffer, coarser plants. In my yard, I have it planted close to some old-fashioned roses, and the combination of formal rose blossoms and free-flowing seedheads is really surprising and pretty.

Spangle grass is easy to grow. Though it flourishes in sun and moist, fertile soil, it also does well in part shade and dry, poor soil. My spangle grass grows in a dim, parched, sandy place under some wild sumacs on the north side of the house, and it thrives there even though I almost totally neglect it. (I do cut back its old growth in early spring.)

Planting spangle grass in dry shade is a good way to prevent it from self-sowing—a thing it will do like crazy given half a chance. You'll definitely want to discourage it. Another way to keep “babies” from popping up all over your yard is to gather the seedheads in fall (if you don't mind depriving the birds). They’re stunning in bouquets and dried arrangements, and they won’t shatter.

Fall display

Spring leaves in a bouquet with purple coneflowers and heirloom roses
Growing next to Mrs. B.R. Cant, in early April

Under the sumacs, in late April


  1. I'm so glad to see that I can leave s comment again. I have never heard of or seen spangled grass. Love that name - spangled grass! It is so unique and very pretty. You write beautifully! I hope this is what you do for a living

  2. I've never seen spangle grass either. It makes a lovely addition to your gardens, which by the way are very healthy and beautiful looking from what I can see in these few photos.

    Have a great week ~ FlowerLady

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