December 18, 2014

Plant of the Month: Northern Sea Oats

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Need an ornamental grass for a shady setting? I have just the plant for you!

dried seedheads

Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) is one of those plants that has me asking, "Where have you been all my life?" It's new to my garden, and I wonder why it took me so long to add it. Numerous garden bloggers have extolled its virtues, and I finally took their advice and planted it.

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Northern Sea Oats is one of the few grasses native to my area and zone that thrives in shade--perfect for my shade-dominated garden.

Apparently it can be prolific--reseeding readily from year to year. I can't vouche for that since it's new for me, but I'm guessing the best practice is to plant it in an area where you don't mind some spreading.

location

Fortunately, I found a great location--in a narrow section between the patio and the stone wall, with shrubs on one side and Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum) at its feet.

Other specs for this plant, as noted by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center:

Height: 2-4 ft.
Shape: clump-forming
Water use: medium
Native distribution: eastern, central and southwestern North America
Larval host: various skipper butterflies
Resists: deer and rabbits
Other nicknames: River Oats, Indian Wood Oats, Flathead Oats, Upland Sea Oats, among others

arrangement

The dried seed stalks are excellent for autumn and winter floral arrangements.

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And after one season of closely observing this plant, I've concluded the best location for it is in partial shade or dappled sun, because the best views of Northern Sea Oats include gentle sunlight illuminating through it ... during every season.

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(Thanks to those who've participated in and commented on PlantPosting's fourth quarter "Lessons Learned" meme. The meme remains open indefinitely, and we'd love to learn from your experiences. Click here or on the "Lessons Learned" tab to participate.)

48 comments:

  1. You've beaten me to the punch, Beth! I have a post in the works on this fabulous grass and haven't quite had the time to work on it, though I've written about Inland Sea Oats, (the most "common" of the common name for the same plant, here in Austin). It is a great plant. It reseeds, but part of the gardener's job is to weed and when a plant is as water-wise, regionally appropriate and beautiful, a little work, now and then, is just fine with me! I haven't found it a problem in my gardens and I recommend it to others all the time.

    Beautiful photos--and those last few? Stunning!

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    1. Thanks, Tina! Oh gosh, I think there's plenty of room for all of us to gush over this plant. I'm following a long line of bloggers to sing its praises! I wanted to add some native grass to my garden, but so many of them want sun. This wants shade, so it wants my garden! ;-) Thanks for the added info about how it behaves in your garden!

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  2. The stone wall is a good place to show off this plant which should fill in quickly. Any plant that will grow well in both our gardens will work almost anywhere. This has been a good shade plant in my garden. Eventually the centers of larger clumps will die out and need to be divided.

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    1. Hi Shirley: I don't know why ... two things: why I didn't plant this grass before, and why I didn't think to put a tall plant in that particular spot before. Good point--we have very different gardens and yet this plant thrives in both! Thanks for the info about the need for division. It will be interesting to see how quickly it fills in the area where I planted it.

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  3. Nice looking grass. I'm not sure I've seen it over here. I think you chose the perfect spot for it - it looks great in that light.

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    1. Hi Angie: Serendipity with the location in the garden. One day I was looking at that spot and thought: I need a tall plant there. Perfect place for shade-loving Northern Sea Oats!

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  4. What a stunning grass. Now, I have a practical question for you Beth. In places I've lived where summer becomes very hot and dry, the "broken arrows" from this grass have turned into damaging borers that get into my dog's fur and, if we have some bad luck, into her ears. You can see the shape of the individual "petal" or piece of grass: it is capable of boring into an animal's coat. Do you know about that? I think this is the grass that does that, but I'm not certain. As a dog owner and hiker into the woods, we have to be watchful. Any thoughts welcome!

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    1. Good question, Susie! It prompted me to head outside and check my plants. Of course, mine are young plants, but they are very pliable and soft and I can't imagine them getting caught in fur or ears any more than any other grass. But perhaps another gardener can comment on this. If that is the case, all the more reason to plant it out of the path of human and dog walking. Mine are tucked between two stone barriers. But perhaps it's a different grass that causes this problem--I'm not sure. Thanks for asking the question!

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    2. Yes, you are right. It is only when the grass has become completely dry and hard that the pieces break off when a dog or other animal walks by. Then with the arrow shape of the grass, they bore into the skin. But you know what? We have to watch for lots of things when we walk in the woods, like ticks too. So I guess it's vigilance all around with a pet!

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    3. Ah, that makes sense--the seedheads. Ouch! Poor doggies! I suppose that is how the seeds get transported in nature--in the fur of mammals (and other places where the seeds stick)? When I get my dog (a girl can dream), I'll watch out for that plant! ;-)

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  5. I love grasses, they are so ornamental and useful for difficult sections of some gardens. Your images make them really appealing and photogenic, I love how you have captured the light coming through.

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    1. Thanks, Lula. I'm appreciating grasses more with time. I especially enjoy them in late summer and fall (and winter) when many of them bloom and add unique colors to the landscape.

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  6. That is beautiful. Especially if it's happy in shade, therefore it wants my garden too :)

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    1. Yes, it's definitely a good grass for shade or partial shade. Apparently it grows fine in sun, too, but it really thrives in shade. Yay!

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  7. Great images of your sea oats. I'm gradually being a convert to grasses.

    Thank you for visiting my Seedscatterer blog. You can grow Shrimp Plant as a house plant, my mother did.

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    1. Thanks, Jean. Good to know the Shrimp Plant can be grown as a house plant! I feel the same way about grasses. I think my visit to the grass garden at Kew really made me appreciate them more--not just as sources of food for humans and other animals, but also as fascinating ornamental plants.

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  8. Beautiful photos Beth. I do like this grass for the way the sun makes them shine. The interesting seed heads are such a nice addition to the late summer/fall garden. Merry Christmas and see you again from my "home" in PA.

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    1. Thank you, Donna. Yes, I had read about/seen this plant on so many blogs and I kept thinking I should add it to the garden. Finally, I found the perfect spot! Merry Christmas! Enjoy your trip and time with family and friends!

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  9. Wonderful studies of this grass! It grows wild down by the creek that borders our property and has made its way into my garden. It's my favorite grass next to Muhly. It's so graceful and catches the light so beautifully.

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    1. Thanks! Muhly Grass is right up there as a favorite for me, too, along with Purple Love Grass, which looks similar when it's blooming. I don't think Muhly is hardy in my zone (5), and Purple Love Grass wants more sun. Otherwise, I'd find a spot for one or both of them in my garden. N. Sea Oats fits right into my shady garden.

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  10. Oh an idea to replace some silver grass along the pond and shady... Michelle

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    1. Yes, it performs well in shade, Michelle! I'm going to have to stop on over to your blog and check out the layout of your pond. Do keep me posted!

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  11. Oh I love that grass! So pretty! I had planted some in North Carolina, and also planted some variegated Northern River Oats. Both were really pretty. I didn't live there long enough to see them get big, but I've seen masses of them in other gardens, and they are so gorgeous, especially in Autumn!

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    1. Yes, late summer through autumn seem to be the more showy seasons for this grass. It's also fascinating to see the little flowers start to form. I'm looking forward to seeing how it fills in a little more next year.

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  12. Excellent pictures. As you know I have a lot of this grass. I wouldn't be without it, even with its few annoying habits.

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    1. Thanks, Jason. Yes, I was going to mention you and Donna as recommending this grass. Then I started thinking there have been so many others who blog about it, too. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings for not mentioning them, but you were one of the major proponents of this grass. Thanks so much for recommending it and posting about it!

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  13. Stunning photos, Beth! I've admired this grass for a long time, but I was put off by the descriptions of its tendency to readily re-seed. If I can find the right place for it, I'd love to add some to my garden, too.
    Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, Beth!

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    1. Thank you, Rose! I knew I wanted to add this plant after hearing so much about it. But, like you, I needed a good spot for it. After much thought, I did find the perfect spot. I'll be curious to discover how it fills in next season.

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  14. This plant is truly lovely, especially when the sun shines through! I was immediately interested when I read about its tolerance of shade. I have always been very leery of grasses because I already have several invasive monsters I continually battle. Clump forming does not sound bad, but I wonder how far the seeds will travel.

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    1. Yes, I will be curious to find out how it behaves. Most of the ornamental grasses crave sun, so I haven't added any to my shady garden. We have many sedges here and lawn grass, but this is the only shade-loving ornamental grass on our home property.

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  15. What a beautiful grass. Thanks for sharing your excellent photos of it.

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    1. It is gorgeous when the sunlight hits it just right. Thank you, Tim. Nature paints amazing pictures.

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  16. Beth I am so glad you planted this fav grass of mine...it will seed itself but it is so lovely to see groups of it...and I agree locate it where the sun shine through it and illuminate those oats....I have mine in a spot where the sun will rise or set through it....Merry Christmas Beth!

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    1. Thanks for recommending it, Donna. Both you and Jason came to mind when I was thinking of folks who suggested it. And thank you, too, for all the great information about it. I don't know why it took me so long to realize it was a good choice in this particular spot. If it fills in the area, I will be pleased. :) Merry Christmas to you, too!

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  17. One of my favorites, and you do it justice with your photos. It does seed around, but imagine how much fun you will have passing it along to others.

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    1. Thank you, Ricki. Good point--it will be wonderful to have starts to share with others!

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  18. Very pretty, and your photos of it are very beautiful. The only thing that made me hesitate was the part about being a prolific re-seeder, I think I will continue to admire it on your blog then :-)

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    1. Thank you, Helene. I can see how it might not be the best choice for a smaller garden. I wonder how it would do in a pot? But then the seeds might travel and pop up elsewhere. You're probably right to hold off. ;-)

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  19. I've never had mine reseed, must be because I cut it back when it flops over and gets crispy in late autumn?

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    1. Ah, good idea, Loree. I cut off most (but not all) of the seed heads on mine for floral arrangements. But then later I sprinkled the seeds in the area where I want it to fill in. So ... I'l be curious to see how it grows back next spring and summer.

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  20. I think I have ever seen this plant before. It's similar to wild grass here. but when we notice it, we can explore the beauty. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Yes, it's a native grass here. I've seen it in natural areas, but I find swaths of it more eye-catching--in the late summer and early fall. I imagine you have some stunning native grasses in your area, too!

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  21. I like this plant. Certainly looks fantastic in the garden. I wish you a happy world of Christmas.!

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    1. Thank you, Giga. It is a welcome addition. Happy Christmas to you and your family, too!

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  22. wow -- awesome photos! Grasses are beautiful, as you've shown so well.

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    1. Thank you, Hollis! Yes, agreed: Grasses can be stunningly beatiful. Particularly in the autumn, and when seedheads form and the oblique light hits them at fascinating angles!

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  23. How very beautiful - plant and pictures! I'm too late to wish you a Happy Christmas but not too late I hope to wish you well for this New Year and best wishes for 2015

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    1. Thanks, Lucy. Happy Holidays to you, as well! Never too late. All the best to you in the months ahead!

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