Toronto Native Prairie Tallgrass Tall Grasses: Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, Indiangrass & More

Toronto Native Prairie Tallgrass Tall Grasses: Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, Indiangrass & More

The “Big Four” native prairie warm-season grasses are big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans). As part of the Great Lakes ecosystems, Toronto is home to all Big Four.

Among them, the big bluestem is the most common one in the wild. They can be found along the banks of the Don River across East Toronto. Featured with turkey-feet seed heads, this 8-10 ft tall grass is hard to miss.

Switchgrass is also a major host in prairie grasslands. It is the most versatile grass among these four. It can be animal feed, biomass and ornamental grass.The major streets of Richmond Hill in the York Region are decorated with switchgrass.

Indiangrass is the most ornamental grass among the Big Four. It gives off a refreshing aroma when blooms. It is the most enjoyable thing to see when the bronze seed heads dance in the wind, forming a sea of waving flags. However, Indiangrass is extremely hard to find in and out of the city.

The little bluestem is also difficult to find. I had never spotted one in the wild, so I tried to grow some for myself. Yet, the native grass I grew gave up to the introduced white clover. Now my little bluestem is gone.

I am busy growing milkweeds, aka, monarch butterfly food, in my tiny Toronto garden. So there is no room for tall grasses. If I had space, I would have grown switchgrass for the migrating birds and butterflies. If I had even more room, I would have added Indiangrass because of the nice scent it produces. The scent can instantly take you to the countryside full of wheat fields.

In the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), traffic lights are always abundant whereas affordable housing is chronically scarce. Luckily, we have big bluestem growing along the Don River and switchgrass along Highway 7. Together with the Northern red oaks, it reminds us that we are in the rich arable land by Lake Ontario.


Upper Picture: Switchgrass in mid-autumn

Ending Picture: Switchgrass in high summer


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