Don't let the graceful appearance and fine texture of these clumping grasses fool youthey're as tough as they come. Deep rooted and drought tolerant; excellent for massing in hot, dry areas and effective in meadow gardens, mixed borders, naturalized areas, rock gardens, even by swimming pools. Plumelike flower heads appear in summer or fall; after they fade, tiny seeds drop to the ground, hence the common name.
S. airoides. ALKALI SACATON, ALKALI DROPSEED. Native from Arkansas and Missouri northwest to Washington and south to Mexico. Foliage clump grows 3 ft. high and wide; leaves are grayish green during growing season, yellow in fall, beige in winter. In summer or fall, showy, erect or arching flower plumes increase plant height to 5 ft.; plumes are pinkish, eventually fading to pale straw color. Takes a wide range of soils; good for alkaline conditions. Noninvasive.
S. heterolepis. PRAIRIE DROPSEED. Native to the Midwest, High Plains, and much of the eastern U.S. Emerald-green, hairlike leaves form a billowing mass to 15 in. tall and 112 ft. wide. Foliage turns golden to orange in fall, then fades to light bronze in winter. Slender-stemmed panicles of flowers rise to 3 ft. tall, soaring above the foliage in late summer. Blossoms are pink to light brown and smell faintly of coriander. The seeds are highly nutritious and were ground into flour by Plains Indians. Plant tolerates almost any soil but likes it on the dry side. It can be started from seed but is rather slow to establish. Unlike many other grasses, this one doesn't self-sow extravagantly, so volunteer seedlings are seldom a problem.
S. wrightii. GIANT SACATON. Native to sandy open areas and hillsides in southwestern Canada and the southwestern U.S. Narrow, arching, blue-green leaves grow quickly to form a clump 34 ft. tall and wide. Feathery, golden yellow seed heads nearly double the plant's height in late summer to early fall; good in dried arrangements. Evergreen in all but the coldest climates. Quite drought tolerant but looks best with occasional deep watering. Noninvasive.