Not Which Grass? Witchgrass!

What have we here?

What have we here?

With the Halloween season upon us, I found the common name of a “new-to-me” species to have particularly good timing in entering my knowledge base.

I spotted some beautiful wildflowers along the culvert out front…Lobelia, Swamp Sunflower, Pipewort, Flattop Goldenrod, Musky Mint and more.  As I got closer to take some photographs, I spotted a rather tall grass that I’d not seen before.

I reached in with the camera and took a few photos.  To me, it had the growth habit of the Witchgrass in my backyard, but this stuff looked like it was on steroids as it was nearly three-foot tall.

Nearly three-feet tall, it's a species of Witchgrass

Nearly three-feet tall, it’s a species of Witchgrass

A hefty offering, I did a little research and based on the size I believe this one to be Woolly Witchgrass (Dichanthelium scabriusculum).

Florida has 24 species of Witchgrass listed in the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants, all of them native to Florida.  In my research, I discovered that one possible reason it is called Witchgrass is because farmers viewed it as a problem weed and considered it evil or supernatural.  While the author at the linked Website indicated that it was introduced from Europe, the USDA does not show any of the species within the genus Dichanthelium as being introduced here…all are shown as native to their respective regions.

Most I was familiar with was low growing

Most Witchgrass I was familiar with was low growing. How could anyone give this pretty little plant an evil connotation

I have at least two other species in my garden and think it is a delightful addition to the landscape.  The smallest one, who’s species I’m not quite sure of, provides a beautiful pink hue when in bloom, especially in the morning when covered with dew.  You can look out and the yard looks like a positively magical carpet of mauve.

Ohhhhh, the beautiful pink hue of the inflorescence on my mystery species of Dichanthelium

Ohhhhh, the beautiful pink hue of the inflorescence on my mystery species of Dichanthelium

The second offering, Openflower Witchgrass (D. laxiflorum) is low growing and furry adding a different and interesting texture amid other groundcovers.

D. laxiflorum is another low growing species. More what most of us would consider grasslike.

D. laxiflorum is another low growing species. More what most of us would consider grasslike.

I’m not the only one that has a love of Witchgrass.  I was thrilled to find a poem by Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Glück that pretty much sums up my philosophy about Native Plants, or perhaps sums up my feelings about people and their need for exotics in the garden.


comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder—

If you hate me so much
don’t bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another
way to blame
one tribe for everything—

as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy—

I’m not the enemy.
Only a ruse to ignore
what you see happening
right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure.  One of your precious flowers
dies here almost every day
and you can’t rest until
you attack the cause, meaning
whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion—

It was not meant
to last forever in the real world.
But why admit that, when you can go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together.

I don’t need your praise
to survive.  I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.

From THE WILD IRIS (The Ecco Press, 1992)

I found anecdotal information that a gentleman transplanted to Jacksonville, Florida from Chicago nominated this poem as his “best loved” poem, due to his struggle with a Florida lawn and Florida pests.

Closeup of Openflower Witchgrass shows it's pubescent texture

Closeup of Openflower Witchgrass shows it’s pubescent texture

So, no matter what derogatory term emotes from the common name of our fair natives, I won’t be deterred from giving them the life they deserve in my beautiful wildlife garden.


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  1. Marilyn says

    Lovely photos, and what a beautiful, evocative poem. I like the mauve magic carpet, too.

    Another witch: I was looking up witch hazel(hamamelis vernalis), which is native to my area, and was surprised to find a link to Lowe’s. Could it be Lowe’s is actually now selling witch hazel? Not really. The link referred to a kind of satin interior paint. Go figure. Actually I think witch hazel earned its name because of its many medicinal uses, though.

  2. Carole says

    Ah, yes, I know which ones you mean. Tough little grasses that don’t muscle in and I’m sure the birds enjoy their seeds. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  3. Marilyn says

    I’ve been researching witch hazel, and keep coming across witch grass. In “Gardening for the Birds,” George Allen refers to a witch grass(panicum capillare), which he says supports 61 different species of birds.

  4. Cindy says

    Witch grass?..well..witch grass? At least you could tell us witch grass and who’s on first..’cause I can’t tellium :-) Great poem.. thank you! There are native Dicanteliums on LI.. here we call the larger ones Deer’s Tongue and now I shall call the smaller ones witch grass? I can’t remember..

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