Prairie Cordgrass (Pectinata)

The Prairie Cordgrass (Pectinata) is generally described as a perennial graminoid. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the mid summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Prairie Cordgrass (Pectinata) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Prairie Cordgrass (Pectinata) will reach up to 8 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Prairie Cordgrass (Pectinata) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed, sprigs. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

The stiff stems, vigorous rhizomes and robust size of this species are useful in stabilizing soil, dissipating wave energy and providing cover.

wetland restoration and enhancement streambank stabilization windstrip barrier filterstrip riparian buffer prairie landscaping wildlife habitat – nesting and cover forage - very early season only spillway and dam cover

General Characteristics

General: Prairie cordgrass is a warm-season perennial grass. It is native to the tall grass prairies of most of the United States and Canada. It has an average height of 3 to 8 feet (Johnson and Larson). The leaf blades, 3 to 13 mm wide and up to 30 inches long, are coarse, very tough, and thick. The margins of the leaf are serrated and sharp. Stems are stiff. It is strongly rhizomatous with very tough, scaly rhizomes. Seedheads are composed of 10 to 20 spikes attached to the main stem. Each spike has up to 40 spikelets, all growing in two rows on the side of the spike away from the stem. The seeds are flat, paper-like with barbed awns that attach firmly to fur or fabric. There are approximately 183,000 seeds per pound.

Required Growing Conditions

For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS web site.

Habitat: Prairie cordgrass is found in wet meadows, sloughs, potholes, and drainage ways. It is associated with various species including sedges and rushes.

Adaptation Prairie cordgrass has a broad climatic adaptation. It will grow on seasonally dry sites, tolerates alkaline condition and high water tables but is intolerant of prolonged flooding. It will grow on a wide array of soil types, but prefers a soil other than sand.

Cultivation and Care

Prairie cordgrass can be established from seed or vegetative material. Following are guidelines for each of these propagation methods.

Vegetative Propagation

Vegetative Material Quality: The strong rhizomes can be used for propagation. The ideal piece of vegetative material is a “J” hook piece of rhizome with buds and 4 to 12 inches of dry stem. Other rhizome pieces can be used if there are roots and at least one bud. The stem length is not critical for growth, but, if attached, makes planting and handling easier.

Vegetative Source: Local sites such as a ditch or wet meadow Nursery propagation bed - Material is usually more uniform and plants tend to be larger and stronger making them easier to handle and improving survival.

Harvest Date: Spring (early April-June) Fall (dormant-October/November)-Rhizomes dug in the fall should be stored in controlled conditions of temperatures near freezing. Do not allow pieces to become too warm or dry.

Harvest Method: Vegetative material can be dug by hand or with an undercutter, disk or plow. Depth of digging will vary depending on site conditions. In older stands, the intertwined rhizomes are course, stiff, and have sharp buds. Material most easily processed is from younger growth found on the outside edge of an old stand or from newer plantings. Plants 2 to 3 years old would be the easiest material to handle and process. Once rhizomes are dug, pieces should be cut as described above. It is important to keep processed rhizomes cool and moist until planting. Another method of establishment would be to scatter the rhizomes, cover, and firm the planting bed.

Planting Method: Rhizomes should be planted with the shoot upright. Roots and at least part of the shoot should be buried. The average planting depth should be 3 to 6 inches. Rhizomes have been successfully planted using a tree planter and by hand planting. Air space around the planted rhizome should be removed by packing.

Spacing: This will vary depending on the purpose of the planting and site conditions.

Seed increase fields and nursery beds: Recommended spacing between rows is 6 to 15 feet. Suggested spacing within row is 3 to 6 feet.

Streambanks, riparian areas, other erosion control sites: Spacing can vary, depending on slope, stabilization required, mulch, and available plants and resources. Generally, plants are spaced 2 to 10 feet apart and planted in off-set rows. Rhizomes planted along streambanks should be planted several feet beyond the water line. Cordgrass is intolerant of frequent flooding. Ice jams and fluctuating water can wash out plants closer to the water line. Rhizomes planted higher up the slope will readily send shoots down the slope toward the water line.

Seed Propagation Seeding Method: drill broadcast

Seeding Rate: Based on 183,000 seeds/lb, the following are general seeding rates. Actual rates may vary depending on site locations and purpose of planting. These recommendations are guidelines for establishment in the Northern Great Plains. 30 seeds/ft2 (7 lbs PLS/acre) 1/4 to 1 pound PLS/acre in wet meadow mixes

Seeding Depth: ½ to ¾ inches

Seed Quality: Viability: Viability of seed decreases when stored under high temperatures and humidity. In controlled storage, germination remains good for about 3 years. Current purity and germination tests (9 months or less) are needed for accurate seeding rates. Germination tests may be difficult to interpret, however, as there are no standardized testing procedures. You may want a second opinion for newer lots with low germinations. Dormancy reported on seed tests should be considered in seed viability.

Flowability: Debearded or deawned seed is more flowable, and seeding rate and placement is more accurate and consistent than for non-debearded (awned) seed.

Seed Source: Most seed of prairie cordgrass is produced in the northern regions of North America. Insect predation inhibits seed production in mor

General Upkeep and Control

Seedling vigor is only moderate and seed often germinates throughout the course of the summer. Seedlings develop slowly. Stands are established more quickly by planting vegetative material compared to seeding. Adequate water at planting time is critical for establishment of seed and vegetative material. Once the stand is established, watering is less critical. Due to the rhizomatous growth and size of the plants, weed competition is not usually a problem in established stands. The first few years of establishment by seed may require weed control if heavily infested. Prairie cordgrass has few management needs. Mowing of prairie cordgrass more than once per season can reduce vigor.

Seed production fields: Seed fields established from rhizomes will produce some seed the first year. Seed fields established from seed usually takes 2 to 3 years before producing a seed crop. Seed can be combined after the first frost in northern regions and shattering is generally not a problem. Seed yields at the Bismarck, North Dakota Plant Materials Center have varied from 30 to 75 PLS lbs/acre with wide row spacing. Plantings used for seed production can become quite sodbound after 5 years and seed production inhibited. Rhizomes will need to be separated by some means, or a new field established.

Pests and Potential Problems Pests do not appear to be a problem for vegetative material. Seed predation by insects is a problem in most areas except the extreme northern climates of the United States.

Environmental Concerns This plant may become weedy or invasive in some regions or habitats and may displace desirable vegetation if not properly managed. Please consult with your local NRCS Field Office, Cooperative Extension Service office, or State natural resource or agriculture department regarding its status and use. Weed information is also available from the PLANTS web site at

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Graminoid
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Mid Summer
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Rhizomatous
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 8
Vegetative Spread Rapid
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Low
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed, Sprigs
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Moderate
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8.5 pH
Precipitation Range 14–14 inches/yr
Planting Density 2700–4800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Minimum Frost-Free Days 110 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Low
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA