Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Workhorse is finally put to Work: Alkali Sacaton

Sporobolus airoides, a grass in light pink bloom, gives a mist the San Luis Valley between gnarly green greasewood.

It's my favorite grass of all time, and this is getting worse all the time when it keep proving to work in so many places where others fail.

Sporobolus airoides is the Alkali Dropseed, or Alkali Sacaton; the dry western version of the beloved Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis. It is also closely related to the Giant Sacaton, Sporobolus wrightii,  both of which are very different creatures than this.

Can grow in wet places which flood/ get wet
Can grow in dry places with zero irrigation and 9" of natural rain.
Does not spread by rhizomes
Does not spread by seed (totally strange, as it's easy to intentionally grow from seed)
Lives a long time (so many grasses die out or at least the center dies)
Seems to combat weeds (I started to notice this year and am testing it further)
Grows fine in extreme saline/alkaline soils.  It's in the name.

Some of the dried flower panicles may blow and tumble around in winter.  That's it.

In leaf, it's a fine textured grass knee-high, and the flower stems, emerging in mid-summer, are hip-high.  (Note the taller plant at back right- this is a giant sacaton, S. wrightii, for comparison.

As such an ideal plant, I wondered why it was almost never used in common landscaping.  I have planted or spec'd thousands in the last few years in my own landscape work.  But hooray! I am not alone as I have seen it in medians in Ft. Collins, and now-

Holy wow, there are some in a streetscape on South Broadway in Denver, and other-wow, I didn't plant them.

It does a fine job at catching the light for months and distracting you from the boringness of suburbity.

It is available from Chelsea Nursery in Grand Junction, somebody in Northern Colorado, and I (at Paintbrush Gardens) specialty grow it for our designs.


David C. said...

Denver, on the high plains steppe, uses native grasses? Impressed by those sacatons there, which I assume are native like down here. Yes!

Hollis said...

I'm a fan too! I have been encouraging them in my yard, even added (transplanted) several small ones.