By Suzanne Wodek
Considered by many to be the showiest of the prairie grasses, Prairie Dropseed is a clump-forming, warm season, native perennial grass that typically occurs in prairies, glades, on open ground and along railroads. Sporobolus heterolepis tolerates a wide range of soils, including heavy clays, but prefers dry, rocky soils.
The fine-textured, hair-like medium green leaves are 20 inches tall and one-sixth of an inch wide. Flower panicles, 30 to 36 inches tall, appear on slender stems that rise above the foliage clumps in late summer. These flowers have pink and brown tints that are most noted for their unique fragrance of coriander. Tiny, rounded mature seeds drop to the ground from their hulls in autumn giving rise to the descriptive common name. These highly nutritious seeds are much sought after by birds. The grass foliage turns golden with orange hues in fall, fading to light bronze in winter.
Although the plant is called dropseed, and its seeds do drop to the ground in the fall, it doesn’t spread quickly on its own. With no serious insect or disease problems, it is the larval food plant of the Leonard’s skipper (Hesperia leonardus). The larvae pupate in early August amid plant debris. Native Americans ground the seed to make a tasty flour.
The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Learn more at ashevillebotanicalgardens.org.
Upcoming events at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville
Designing with Native Plants A Naturalistic Approach with Lisa Wagner
Saturday, September 2, 10 a.m. to noon
Combining plants aesthetically in their natural landscapes can elevate both enjoyment of your garden and successful stewardship of your landscape, providing sustenance for you and fellow inhabitants of your site. The program will include a presentation followed by an outdoor walk, using BGA plantings as examples. Dr. Lisa Wagner served as director of education at the South Carolina Botanical Garden, Clemson University for more than two decades.
Fall Plant & Rummage Sale
Saturday, September 9, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Botanical Gardens and local plant vendors offer a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers for fall planting. BGA members will get a 10 percent discount on BGA-grown plants sold at the gazebo. This event will take place rain or shine. The Botanical Gardens receives no city, state or federal funds. Instead, it receives funding exclusively through memberships, donations, gift shop sales and the fall and spring plant sales. Admission is free and there is ample parking nearby.
Native Plant Primer with Pat Sommers
Sunday, September 17, 9–11:30 a.m.
This class teaches basic botanical elements of plants such as flower structure, seed production and leaf configuration; differences between a species plant, a cultivar and a hybrid; and about pollination, food sources and shelter for insects and other creatures. Sommers owns Natural Selections Nursery in Weaverville and is an outdoor volunteer and BGA board member.
Educational programs are $12 for members, $17 for non-members. Participants must pre-register and pre-pay for classes by calling 828.252.5190.