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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)
Care (info)
Tender Well drained soil Moist Soil Full sun
Panicum virgatum Switch Grass

wikimedia.org / Warren Gretz, DOE/NREL
Panicum virgatum Switch Grass
wikimedia.org / SEWilco


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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.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 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: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly 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.

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

None known

References   More on Edible Uses

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

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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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

References   More on Other Uses

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.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

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.

Native Plant Search

Search over 900 plants ideal for food forests and permaculture gardens. Filter to search native plants to your area. The plants selected are the plants in our book 'Plants For Your Food Forest: 500 Plants for Temperate Food Forests and Permaculture Gardens, as well as plants chosen for our forthcoming related books for Tropical/Hot Wet Climates and Mediterranean/Hot Dry Climates. Native Plant Search

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  LMHNM211
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 -  LMHNM202
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.


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Botanical References

Links / References

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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