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Ornamental Grasses for Iowa

Ornamental Grass Gallery - Ornamental Grass List

Ornamental grasses are becoming more popular as garden and landscaping plants, offering interesting textures not often found in other ornamental plants. Most of Iowa is well suited for growing grasses, having been originally covered with an inland sea of grasses, the waves formed by the wind.

Many of our native prairie grasses and woodland grasses are beautiful and can be used in the garden. Only a few native species are currently in use. The most easily purchased ornamental grasses are non-native, introduced species. Some of these introduced species are benign, while others have the potential to become invasive weeds. Amur silvergrass (Miscanthus sacchariflorus) is one species that has become invasive in Iowa.

This site has only information about members of the true grass family, Poaceae. Some plants that belong to other plant families look very much like grasses but will not be treated here. More ornamental grass species and cultivars will be added to this section of the Grasses of Iowa site over the next year.

Perennials - introduced species

feather reed grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora
blue oatgrass, Helictotrichon sempervirens
Japanese silvergrass, Miscanthus sinensis
purple moor grass, Molinia caerulea
perennial fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides
tender fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum

Perennials - native species

side-oats grama grass, Bouteloua curtipendula
northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium
little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium
prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis
switchgrass, Panicum virgatum

Native species with ornamental potential (full sun)

big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii
blue grama grass, Bouteloua gracilis
purple lovegrass, Eragrostis spectabilis

Native species with ornamental potential (shade)

bearded shorthusk, Brachyelytrum erectum


cultivated oats, Avena sativa
green cat (finger millet), Eleusine coracana
bunny tail grass, Lagurus ovatus
giant burgundy fountain grass, Pennisetum ‘Burgundy Giant’
rabbit's foot grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
sorghum, Sorghum bicolor


Nebraska Cooperative Extension-Ornamental Grasses
University of Illinois Extension-Ornamental Grasses
Noble Foundation-Grass image gallery


Darke, Rick. 1999. The Color Encylopedia of Ornamental Grasses: sedges, rushes, restios, cat-tails, and selected bamboos. Timber Press: Portland, Oregon.

Greenlee, John. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses: How to Grow and Use Over 250 Beautiful and Versatile Plants. Michael Friedman Publishing Group, Inc.: New York.

Grounds, Roger. 1989. Ornamental Grasses. Christopher Helm: London.

King, Michael, and Piet Oudolf. 1998. Gardening with Grasses. Timber Press: Portland, Oregon.

Oaks, A. J. 1990. Ornamental Grasses and Grasslike Plants. Van Nostrand Reinhold: New York.

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