2014 Perennial Plant of the Year - U of I Extension

News Release

2014 Perennial Plant of the Year

This article was originally published on December 10, 2013 and expired on January 15, 2014. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

URBANA, Ill. - Panicum virgatum 'Northwind' is the Perennial Plant Association's 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year™.

Panicum virgatum (pronounced PANic-um ver-GATE-um) carries the common name of switch grass or switchgrass, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"This warm-season perennial grass has blue-green foliage and stands more erect than is typical of the species. Northwind is only the third ornamental grass to be named Plant of the Year, following Calamagrostis 'Karl Foerster' in 2001 and Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' in 2009," said Martha Smith.

The genus Panicum, native to North America, is a member of the Poaceae family, formerly Gramineae. Regardless of nomenclature, members of Panicum are excellent perennial grasses for the landscape. The genus botanical name (Panicum) is thought to derive from the Latin pan, bread. One species (P. miliaceum, common millet) has been used for centuries to make flour.

Roy Diblik selected Northwind from a population of Panicum virgatum he raised using wild-collected seed from plants growing along railroad tracks in South Elgin, Illinois. In July 1983, he noticed that one plant had wider leaves and a very upright growth habit, unlike the typical arching form of the others.

He gradually built up stock of the upright one. In 1992, when Northwind Perennial Farm opened, he introduced it and named it Northwind. Having been discovered in Illinois and trialed in southern Wisconsin, Northwind is hardy to USDA zones 4 to 10. "Winter form is equally as upright as long as we don't experience consecutive heavy wet snowfalls," Smith said.

Panicum virgatum Northwind spreads slowly to form erect clumps of slender, steel blue leaves about 5 feet tall. In late summer, the foliage is topped by a haze of showy, finely textured flower panicles that rise to 6 or even 7 feet, opening golden yellow and maturing to beige. "Fall color is an attractive golden yellow," Smith said.

Northwind is very easy to grow. It will enhance any sunny border or light shade garden, not just a native, meadow, or prairie-style garden. Northwind has a refined, garden-worthy appearance and habit and is comfortable in both formal and informal gardens. Deep roots make Northwind remarkably drought-tolerant once established. And like most ornamental grasses, Panicum Northwind is seldom eaten by deer. There are no serious insect or disease problems with switchgrass.

Smith noted that plants are best divided in spring.

Source: Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture, smithma@illinois.edu

Pull date: January 15, 2014