Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Indian Grass Seed

I’ve been monitoring the progress of Indian Grass seed development in hopes of harvesting some for a neighbor to use in a prairie creation project. There’s no shortage of seed being produced this year, but the seed is not ripening uniformly across the field. Different areas of the field flowered in a succession that lasted nearly four weeks. As a result, there are patches of ripe seed mixed with the still developing seed.

Normally, I would just wait for all of the seed in the field to ripen before trying to harvest. Heavy winds over the weekend sent lovely waves rippling through the tall grass, but also threatened to dislodge the ripe seed from the seed heads as it whipped the grass stalks. I was forced to identify patches of ripe seed and battle the winds to claim the seed before it was knocked from the stalk.

The florets are what you harvest. Inside the florets are the seeds. I’ve exposed a couple of the seeds. It’s not necessary to separate the seed from the floret before planting. I was just exposing the seed so I could identify the areas that were ready for harvest. The fact that I remembered the sequence of flower production helped in my quest for ripe seed.

In one area I found larvae where the seed should have been. I found three within ten feet of each other, but didn’t find them anywhere else in the field.

I ended up collecting plenty of seed. The wonderful growing conditions produced some eight foot tall grass plants. That height, along with the 25 mph winds, made seed collection an adventure. I finished with seed in my mouth, nose, eyes, ears and inside every bit of clothing I had on. I don’t think there’s anyplace in the house where you can’t spot at least one Indian Grass seed. I hope the result is the creation of a beautiful prairie.


  1. Steve,

    Indian grass is great. I've just recently located some populations here in central PA on limestone soils which I will collect from. Its close to harvest time over here too. What signifies ripe indian grass seed to you? I've noticed some of the seed heads take on a drier and slightly fluffier appearance before shattering in the wind.

    What was your total haul from this collection effort? How much square footage do you hope to plant?

  2. Hi, David. A ripe seed head loses its bright golden coloration, feels dry when squeezed in your fist and releases the seed with no resistance. I gather the seed by curling my pinky finger around two or three grass stalks and lifting upward to strip the seeds into my open fist. My grip is loose to avoid getting cut by the grass stalks. Ripe seed comes loose so easily that you can’t even feel it. Immature seed heads require a tighter grip to pull the florets loose and you can feel the resistance as they come away from the stalk. I’ve also noticed that a lot of the really fluffy seed heads don’t contain viable seed. It’s still a good idea to dig out some of the seeds to see what condition they’re in.

    We’re planning on seeding about 1.5 acres so I collected a little over 30 pounds of seed. I figure that you get roughly one pound of seed for every two pounds of chaff, so it takes about 20 pounds total to get the six or seven pounds that are recommended for an Indian Grass planting. I’ve also collected about three pounds of mixed wildflower seed to go along with the grass. I’ve used this same general mix on several local projects and all have been very successful.