Switchgrass is a dominant perennial bunchgrass found in the tallgrass prairie. It is a member of the Poaceae family. It can reach heights over 5 feet tall. Switchgrass is a warm-season grass. Switchgrass has a panicle of solitary spikelets.
Although it is a dominant species, it is known to be more site specific than other dominant grasses. Switchgrass is adapted to a variety of soil types, but tends to favor moist conditions. Switchgrass is often found in floodplains, open woodlands and rocky streambeds.
Switchgrass responds well to periodic fires. Prescribed fire is often used as a management tool for switchgrass. The growth of switchgrass begins in the spring and flowering occurs in mid to late summer. The caryopses* mature in the fall and it goes dormant in the winter.
Switchgrass is a palatable and nutritious forage for livestock and produces good quality hay if cut before maturity. Several switchgrass varieties have been developed for hay, grazing and erosion control. As plants mature, nutrient content and palatability decline, this is why many small and large wildlife species consume switchgrass in the spring or following fire. Song birds and upland game birds also use switchgrass as forage, consuming its caryopses.
In the past decade, scientists have been looking at switchgrass as a potential biofuel.
*Caryopses: in grasses, one-seeded fruit. Synonym is grain.