Please donate to support our ‘Plants to Save the Planet’ Project. The Project is directed at enabling designers of ‘carbon farms’ and ‘food forests’: agroecosystems of perennial plants, to choose the most appropriate plants for their requirements and site conditions. We are working on a subset of plants in the PFAF database identified as having the most potential for inclusion in such designs. We are adding search terms and icons to those plants pages, and providing a range of search options aligned to categories of plants and crop yields, with Help facilities including videos. More >>>

Follow Us:


Panicum virgatum - L.

Common Name Switch Grass
Family Poaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Found in both wet and dry soils in prairies and open woods, gravel bars and stream banks and along railroad tracks[352 ].
Range Found in many areas of the world, especially in the temperate and subtropical zones, but also in the tropics, especially in the Americas.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (0 of 5)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Panicum virgatum Switch Grass / Warren Gretz, DOE/NREL
Panicum virgatum Switch Grass / SEWilco


Translate this page:


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Panicum virgatum is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.8 m (6ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in) at a fast rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10. The flowers are pollinated by Wind.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy) and medium (loamy) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Chasea virgata (L.) Nieuwl. Eatonia purpurascens Raf. Ichnanthus glaber Link ex Steud. Milium virgatum (L.) Lunell Panicum buchingeri E. Fourn. Panicum coloratum Kunth Panicum coloratum Walter? Hitchcock Panicum giganteum Scheele Panicum glaberrimum Steud. Panicum havardii Vasey Panicum ichnanthoides E. Fourn. Panicum kunthii E. Fourn Panicum pruinosum Bernh. ex Trin. Panicum purinisum Bernh. ex Trin.


Edible Uses

None known


Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

None known


Our new book Edible Shrubs is now available.

Edible Shrubs provides detailed information, attractively presented, on over 70 shrub species. They have been selected to provide a mix of different plant sizes and growing conditions. Most provide delicious and nutritious fruit, but many also have edible leaves, seeds, flowers, stems or roots, or they yield edible or useful oil.

Read More

Edible Shrubs Book

Other Uses

Agroforestry Uses: A valuable soil-stabilization plant, it is used as ground cover to control erosion[289 , 418 ]. It can be used as an energy substitute and is often considered a good candidate for bio-fuel, especially ethanol fuel production, due to its hardiness against poor soil and climate conditions, rapid growth and low fertilization and herbicide requirements[289 , 418 ]. The plant is sometimes used as a windbreak in crop fields[289 ]. Switchgrass is an excellent forage for cattle; however, it has shown toxicity in horses, sheep, and goats

Special Uses

Carbon Farming


Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Biomass  Management: Hay  Regional Crop

A plant of the temperate zone, it has spread into the subtropics and tropics. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 17 - 32°c, but can tolerate 6 - 36°c[418 ]. It can be killed by temperatures of -10°c or lower, though new growth can be damaged at -1°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 500 - 1,100mm, but tolerates 350 - 2,700mm[418 ]. Grows in any moderately fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny position[200 ]. A drought resistant plant, it is easily grown in average to wet soils and in full sun to part shade[418 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 7, tolerating 4.9 - 8.2[418 ]. The plant has a high risk of becoming a weed in any new area into which it is introduced[305 ]. Plants have particularly heavy growth in late spring and early summer[289 ]. The plant has the potential to produce the biomass required for production of up to 380 litres of ethanol per metric ton. This gives it the potential to produce over 400 litres of ethanol per hectare, compared to 270 for sugarcane and 160 for corn. However, there is debate on the viability of switchgrass, and other bio-fuels, as an efficient energy source. University of California, Berkeley professor Tad Patzek argues that switchgrass has a negative ethanol fuel energy balance, requiring 45% more fossil energy than the fuel produced[418 ]. The plant photosynthesize by a more efficient method than most plants. Called the 'C4 carbon-fixation pathway', this process is particularly efficient at high temperatures, in bright sunlight and under dry conditions[418 ]. As an open pollinated species, switchgrass expresses tremendous genetic diversity, with wide variations in its basic chromosome number (2n = 18), typically ranging from tetraploid to octoploid. Morphologically switchgrass in its southern range can grow to more than 3 m in height, but what is most distinctive is the deep, vigorous root system, which may extend to depths of more than 3.5 m[418 ].. It reproduces both by seeds and vegetatively and, with its perennial life form, a stand can last indefinitely once established. Standing biomass in root systems may exceed that found aboveground, giving perennial grasses such as switchgrass, an advantage in water and nutrient acquisition even under stressful growing conditions[418 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Biomass  Three broad categories: bamboos, resprouting woody plants, and giant grasses. uses include: protein, materials (paper, building materials, fibers, biochar etc.), chemicals (biobased chemicals), energy - biofuels
  • Management: Hay  Cut to the ground and harvested annually. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.


Temperature Converter

Type a value in the Celsius field to convert the value to Fahrenheit:



The PFAF Bookshop

Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees, and Woodland Gardening. Our new book to be released soon is Edible Shrubs.

Shop Now


Seed - sow in a nursery seedbed in a sunny position, only just cover the seed and make sure the compost does not become dry. Germination should take place within a week. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots and plant them out when large enough[200 , K ]. Division as the plant comes in to new growth. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade until they are well established before planting them out[K ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Common names for switchgrass include tall panic grass, Wobsqua grass, blackbent, tall prairiegrass, wild redtop, thatchgrass, and Virginia switchgrass.

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Asia, Canada, Central America, China, Mexico, North America*, USA

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

The plant has a high risk of becoming a weed in any new area into which it is introduced[305 ].

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Panicum antidotaleBlue Panic Grass, Blue panicumPerennial3.0 0-0  LMHNM110
Panicum capillareOld Witch Grass, WitchgrassAnnual0.6 4-8  LMHNM210
Panicum decompositumNative Millet, Australian milletPerennial0.3 0-0  LMHNM20 
Panicum maximumGuinea grass. Green panic grassPerennial2.0 10-12 FLMFSNDM122
Panicum miliaceumEuropean MilletAnnual1.0 10-12  LMHNDM322
Panicum obtusumVine MesquitePerennial0.8 -  LMHNM20 
Panicum sonorumSauwi, Mexican panicgrassAnnual1.0 0-0  LMHNDM20 
Panicum turgidumDesert Grass. Turgid panic grass, AfezuPerennial1.5 10-12 FLMNDM202
Panicum urvilleanumDesert PanicgrassPerennial1.0 -  LMHNDM20 

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


Print Friendly and PDF

Expert comment



Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

Readers comment

QR Code

What's this?

This is a QR code (short for Quick Response) which gives fast-track access to our website pages. QR Codes are barcodes that can be read by mobile phone (smartphone) cameras. This QR Code is unique to this page. All plant pages have their own unique code. For more information about QR Codes click here.

1. Copy and print the QR code to a plant label, poster, book, website, magazines, newspaper etc and even t-shirts.

2. Smartphone users scan the QR Code which automatically takes them to the webpage the QR Code came from.

3. Smartphone users quickly have information on a plant directly for the website on their phone.

Add a comment

If you have important information about this plant that may help other users please add a comment or link below. Only comments or links that are felt to be directly relevant to a plant will be included. If you think a comment/link or information contained on this page is inaccurate or misleading we would welcome your feedback at If you have questions about a plant please use the Forum on this website as we do not have the resources to answer questions ourselves.

* Please note: the comments by website users are not necessarily those held by PFAF and may give misleading or inaccurate information.

To leave a comment please Register or login here All comments need to be approved so will not appear immediately.

Subject : Panicum virgatum  
© 2010, Plants For A Future. Plants For A Future is a charitable company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales. Charity No. 1057719, Company No. 3204567. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Some information cannot be used for commercial reasons or be modified (but some can). Please view the copyright link for more information.
Web Design & Management