Chicago Botanic Garden Grass Trials

Chicago Botanic Garden published issue #43 of their plant trials,  An Evaluation Study of Hardy Ornamental Grasses.  Out of 109 taxa (or kinds), 22 received 5-star ratings, an additional 25 received 4-star ratings. Plants were trialed from 2006-2017, however few if any plants were trialed all of those years. Minimum was 3 years, many for 4 years. Their results are interesting and vary in comparison to the National Grass Trials.
Trials are important and vary depending on site locations. IMG_5813
Panicum ‘Apache Rose’ (right) has rose-colored flowers; Panicum ‘Blue Fountain’ left has arching blue foliage were planted in 2015 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and were not available for the 2012-2016 National Grass Trials.

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Grasses versus Sedges age and numbers

At a recent talk I was asked which plants are older Sedges or Grasses? I guessed sedges….however when I looked this up and saw Wikipedia’s evolutionary tree showing the monocots like grasses and sedges near the top as younger plants. I am not sure we know which evolved first, but I think its probably a simple grass and sedges came later?

As far as number go and which are more plentiful? Grasses are considered the “hair of the earth” for what they cover in acreage. Think of the geographic names given to grass: pampas, steppe, savanna, plains, prairie. Worldwide Poaceae is the 5th largest family in terms of species, with 700 genera and 11,000 species. However, in Minnesota, despite our original prairie, the Cyperaceae or sedge family is a force here! Welby Smith’s Sedges and Rushes of Minnesota lists 15 genera and 217 species in Minnesota; largest genus is Carex. Ownbey and Morley Vascular Plants of Minnesota list 12 genera in the Sedge family with 224 species 155 of which are Carex. These authors list 67 Poaceae with 189 species, some of which are introduced. So I am calling it a tie for sedge and grass species in Minnesota! We have a lot of both sedges and grasses.  Some consider this the center of origin for sedges in North America.
Carex muskingumensis, palm sedge, shows the 3-ranking leaf orientation of the sedge family.

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A bird’s-eye view of the Grass Collection

It’s amazing to see the world of grasses from a new view! Gail Hudson directed and produced this video with the generosity of Kent Withington, an Arboretum volunteer and his drone. The video was made for the 2019 Northern Green Conference; the Top 10 Grasses are listed in a previous post on this blog.
Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 6.29.08 AM


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-28F in Minnesota January 30, 2019

Winter interest of Miscanthus with perennials at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where it was -28.7F on January 30, 2019. A test winter for USDA Zone 4!!

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Top 10 Grasses

What are your favorite grasses? Does it vary from season to season and year to year? Here are the top 10 I talked about at Northern Green this past week in Minneapolis:

Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’ Illinois native selection, PP
Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania sedge Midwest and Eastern US native
Carex muskingumensis palm sedge Midwest and Eastern US native
Hakonechloa macra hakone grass Japanese origin
Molinia caerulea sub species arundinacea ‘Skyracer’ European origin
Panicum virgatum ‘Cape Breeze’ Martha’s Vineyard, MA native selection. PP
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ Wisconsin native selection
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heaven’ Minnesota native selection, PP
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Paradise’ Walter’s Gardens, MI breeding program, PP Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Morning Mist’ Wisconsin native selection. PP


Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ St Paul student center U of M campus 2014. ‘Karl Forester’ feather reedgrass in the background.

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Winter Grasses


Chasmanthium, river oats, with winter greens.

‘Skyracer’ Molinia stands out in winter.

IMG_0493‘Blue Paradise’ little bluestem stands up in winter. Dec 20, 2018 Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

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‘Morning Mist’ prairie dropseed


A new selection of prairie dropseed will be available in 2019, ‘Morning Mist’ is slightly taller than ‘Tara’ and has red stems in the summer and a bright yellow fall color. Introduced from Prairie Nursery in Westfield, WI, this native plant is a welcome addition to our gardens and landscapes.

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