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Best lawn grass ever, Dichanthelium laxiflorum (Open-flower Witchgrass, Open-flower Rosette Grass)

 
Posts: 43
Location: Piedmont, NC
6
forest garden homestead
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I adore this grass -- photos of it in seed are at  https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/24525837. The second photo shows bare spaces -- this is an area where only a few tussocks were growing last year. I've been building up the but the seed bank.  

When i moved here a few years ago i noticed the rosette grass here and there. It competed well against weedy annuals like goose grass and seems to be holding ground against stilt grass. For a couple years now i've held off mowing in May and June to let it go to seed. It doesn't get that tall when going to seed, and looks fairly attractive if i mow just before it really gets underway to get the cudweeds cut back. The soft green haze of the seed heads gets at most two feet high. Once i'm ready to cut the seed heads back, i'll mow again... and now where i have strong stands of this witchgrass  i'm done mowing for the year! It makes a lovely turf and keeps my spouse comfortable because she can see the snakes when they move across the area. Where it is growing thickly isn't quite a monoculture. I've got the native violet, Viola sororia, growing in the spaces between the rosettes. In the spring, the violets bloom brightly as the grass is greening up: it's a lovely effect.

The tussocks take transplantation well. The roots are shallow enough that a shallow scoop is sufficient to successfully transplant by plopping it down where it's wanted. I do get them as "weeds" in the garden (as well as the violets) and i'm usually happy to move both to where they'll serve as a welcome ground cover. The grass grows in moderately deep shade as well as full sun.


Dichanthelium laxiflorum is native across the southeast US; members of the genus can be found across North America. While not all might have the low growth pattern of Dichanthelium laxiflorum, keep an eye out and see if there are native grasses you can use for your spaces.

I don't know when  i might have seeds to share, but if you're interested let me know.


 
steward
Posts: 5574
Location: United States
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I think it is pretty impressive the variety of grasses out there and how some do better than others. i also find it rather neat that some ground covers outcompete weeds pretty well, too.





Part of what is helping Dichanthelium laxiflorum grow so well is that it is a perennial grass. In this diagram from the paper Meeting the challenge of disease management in perennial grain cropping systems, perennial grasses appear to have vastly larger root systems which allow them to out-compete and regrow faster than annual plants.


(source)

And in this diagram from Harvested perennial grasslands provide ecological benchmarks for agriculturalsustainability, it seems that perennial grasses have numerous ecological benefits over annual plants.


(source)
 
Judielaine Bush
Posts: 43
Location: Piedmont, NC
6
forest garden homestead
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Well, Dichanthelium laxiflorum may be perennial, but it doesn't have the deep roots of the grasses you reference. It's found at woods edges and gaps and isn't a traditional prairie or savanna grass. It's shallow roots may be appropriate for NC clays (not the loam in the cutaway photo) and for competition with tree roots.

The perennial grasslands are wonderfully productive though, and North Carolina did have prairie and savanna ecosystems when settlers arrived. The loamy surface of the soil where i am was eroded away with cotton farming, though.
 
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My husband and I have a small native plant nursery (Cure Nursery) in central North Carolina. We have long recognized the appropriateness of Dichanthelium laxiflorum for our roadsides and would love to find a seed source for it. Could you help us find seed?
Jen Cure, Cure Nursery, (919) 542-6186.
 
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