Content Detail

Deer tongue grass is a native grass with an exotic bamboo-like appearance. This warm season, clumping grass tolerates dryness and infertile soils very well. It can be used for naturalizing in tough sites. 

This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.  

  • Family (English) Grass
  • Family (botanic) Poaceae
  • Tree or plant type Grass, Perennial
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Large plant (more than 24 inches)
  • Light exposure Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, Sandy soil, well-drained soil
  • Tolerances Dry sites, Occasional drought, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Other
  • Shape or form Upright

Size and form:

Deer tongue grass will grow 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet tall. Overall, it has an upright habit, but it can become floppy late in the season. It is a warm season, clumping grass, although slow growth of rhizomes can lead to small colonies of this grass.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 6.  It is native to much of the eastern United States and Canada. It is found in a variety of habitats. 

Leaf description:

The alternate leaves clasp the stem, giving the plant a bamboo-like appearance. Leaves are green and up to 10 inches long. Foliage turns yellow-brown in autumn.

Flower description:

The tiny flowers are produced on open, airy clusters called panicles. The panicles can be from 4 to 7 inches tall. Flowering occurs all summer, but the flowers produced earlier in the season are showier. Flowers produced early are silvery and are wind-pollinated. Flowers produced later in the season are often hidden from view and are self-pollinating.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the airy panicles that held the flowers.

Plant care:

Deer tongue grass obtains it’s best growth in light to medium shade. The plant can tolerate full sun, but will often be shorter and lighter green in color. It is often found in wet sites, but is also tolerant of dryness and infertile soils. This is a warm season grass, so its most active growth occurs in summer. It will remain standing in winter, but will be somewhat floppy. It can be cut down to the ground until early spring, before new growth begins. 

List of pests, diseases and tolerances:

There aren’t any serious diseases or pests.


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