Diggin' In: Broomsedge brightens the winter landscape

February 17, 2013

Broomsedge colors the winter landscape.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. ó Broomsedge, botanically called Andropogon virginicus, adds color to the winter landscape with clumps of reddish-orange stems and leaves, striking when sunlight catches the white, fuzzy seedheads, according to Helen Hamilton, past president of the John Clayton Chapter, Virginia Native Plant Society.

Occurring in every county of Virginia, it is found throughout the eastern states, from Massachusetts to Ohio, Missouri and Kansas, south to Florida and Texas. Requiring low amounts of water, the grass can be used for residential landscaping and golf courses.

In spring, this perennial grass forms a stiff clump of light green stems 3 feet tall. Tufts of paired flowers are held against the stem by leafy bracts, opening in late fall. Attached to each seed is a straight bristle surrounded by silvery hairs, allowing distribution by the wind.

Splitbeard Bluestem, A. ternarius, is a similar grass, but the flowers are obviously paired, each seed with a bent bristle, not straight, says Helen.

This grass grows in open, sunny locations on dry soil, preferably loose, sandy, and moist sites such as abandoned fields, roadsides and clearings. While the primary native meadow grass in the northeast, the presence of broomsedge often indicates poor soil, low in phosphorus, that has been overgrazed and nutrient-poor.

Broomsedge is a nectar source and larval host for butterflies, including the Zabulon skipper. Small birds eat the seeds in winter when other food supplies are limited, and the grass provides cover for ground nesting birds such as quail and turkeys.

For more information about native plants, visit and; learn about Helenís newest native plant book at



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