Content Detail

Prairie cordgrass, unlike many grasses of the tallgrass prairie, is found in wet prairies and marshy areas.This grass is a running grass that can spread aggressively by rhizomes. It has a beautiful arching form that suggests motion. 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 Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 3, Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7
  • Soil preference Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances clay soil, Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early winter, midwinter, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, early fall, mid fall, late fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Other
  • Shape or form Arching

Size and Form:

Prairie cordgrass is a tall prairie grass that grows up to 7 feet tall. It is a warm-season, running grass and spread easily by rhizomes, so it may not be appropriate for many home landscapes.

Native geographic location and habitat:

C-Value: 4. Native to much of the United States, prairie cordgrass is common in wet prairies and lowland areas.

Leaf description:

The long, narrow, green leaves have very sharp edges and should be handled carefully. The leaves are somewhat arching and move easily in the wind giving the sense of motion. Fall color is yellow.

Flower description:

Flowering occurs in late summer. The tiny flowers occur on short, comb-like spikes that are brownish-green in color and wind pollinated.

Fruit description:

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the comb-like structures that held the flowers.

Plant care:

This grass in native to wet prairies and can tolerate wet sites. Once established, it is very drought tolerant as well. It requires full sun. This is a warm season grass, so its most active growth occurs in summer. It will remain standing in winter and can act as winter interest. Since this grass remains attractive through winter, it should not be cut back until early spring, just before new growth begins. At that time, it can be cut down to the ground. Care should be taken when handling this grass as the edges of the leaves are very sharp.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:

No common diseases or insects. This is an aggressive, spreading plant and may not be suitable for many landscapes.

This plant is a cultivar of a species that is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research. Cultivars are plants produced in cultivation by selective breeding or via vegetative propagation from wild plants identified to have desirable traits.

Variegated cord grass (Spartina pectinata ‘Aureomarginata’):

This cultivar has a gold edge on the leaves.


Your support is vital to the Arboretum, where the power of trees makes a positive impact on people’s lives.

Make a gift