Switch grass

  • Panicum virgatum


Nest coverRoosting cover Winter cover Summer coverEscape cover Brood coverFood
Switch grass

Many switch grass varieties exceed five feet in height.

Scott Sudkamp, Missouri Department of Conservation


Panicle seed head

Switch grass is a panic grass and exhibits the classic open panicle seed head with spreading stalks supporting abundant seeds.

©Ted Bodner, USDA-NRCS Plants Database

Switch grass ligule

The switch grass ligule consists of a dense fringe of hair that extends onto the leaf surface.

Rob Kallenbach and Greg Bishop-Hurley, University of Missouri

Switch grass seeds

Like other panic grasses, switch grass seeds are football-shaped.

Steve Hurst, USDA-NRCS Plants Database


Switch grass is a native panic grass, but it tends to grow taller than most others and exhibits an upright, bunchy growth form. The leaves twist in a corkscrew-like pattern from the base to the tip of the blade. Native ecotypes on prairies rarely exceed 4 feet, but commonly used varieties, such as Cave-in-Rock and Kanlow, may grow more than 6 feet tall.

Use by bobwhites

As with other panic grasses, bobwhites may consume switch grass seeds, though they tend to be a minor part of the diet. Of greater benefit are the nesting and brooding opportunities switch grass provides with its bunchy growth and spreading canopy. Switch grass is among the stiffest-stemmed of Midwest grasses, allowing the plant to stand up to winter weather, thus providing thermal cover. Dense stands may also serve as escape cover.

Switch grass often dominates warm-season grass mixes in the first several years but eventually settles down to a codominant or subdominant role. Mono­cultures die out after 12-15 years, so it is important to plant switch grass with other native warm-season grasses where permanent cover is necessary. Native ecotypes should be used when available, as they tend to be shorter and less aggressive in mixed-grass communities.