Prairie dropseed, a warm-season prairie bunchgrass, is native from Saskatchewan to Quebec and Massachusetts, south to Georgia, west to New Mexico and Montana (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019). New York and Ohio list prairie dropseed as threatened and five states list it as endangered: Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2019). Prairie dropseed is larval food for six species of butterflies/moths (Lepidoptera), including the federally listed endangered poweshiek skipperling (Oarisma poweshiek) and threatened dakota skipper (Hesperia dacotae) (Narem and Meyer, 2017). Prairie dropseed can be an important addition to managed landscapes because of its bunch growth habit, dense fibrous root system, medium size, and attractive, fragrant flowers. Seed or vegetative propagation and growth of prairie dropseed is slow (Diboll, 1997; Fedewa and Stewart, 2011; Schramm, 1978). Germination has not been reported to be more than 53% (Greene and Curtis, 1950), making it a challenge for commercial production.
Cold dry (Nuzzo, 1978; Prairie Moon Nursery, 2019) or cold moist (equal parts moistened seed and vermiculite) (Blessman et al., 2001), as well as either cold dry or cold moist has been recommended for this species (Prairie Nursery, 2019; Steffen, 1997). However, Rock (1977) indicated this species needs no treatment before germination. Greene and Curtis (1950) concluded prairie dropseed had no benefit to cold stratification. Fedewa and Stewart (2009) found no more than 50% germination, and no significant difference using cold moist, cold dry, and lighting treatments. In the literature, only Greene and Curtis (1950) and Fedewa and Stewart (2009) conducted experiments and reported germination percentage results. Other citations made general comments or recommendations, but did not report actual experimental results to substantiate their recommendations.
An informal e-mail survey in 2018 of nine grass growers in the United States revealed that two used cold, moist stratification (3–4 weeks at 38 to 45 °F), but seven growers used cold, dry storage before germination (M.H. Meyer, unpublished data). All growers stressed the importance of pure seed and using seed that was 1 or 2 years old, but acknowledged quality and germination vary annually. Oversowing seed, using 3 to 5 or even 12 to 15 seeds per plug cell is common (M.H. Meyer, unpublished data).
The objective of this project was to investigate different germination treatments on viable prairie dropseed seeds and to develop recommendations for commercial growers that would increase germination rates of prairie dropseed.
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Diboll, N. 1997 Designing seed mixes, p. 135–150. In: S. Packard and C.F. Mutel (eds.). The tallgrass restoration handbook. Island Press, Washington, DC
Fedewa, C.A. & Stewart, J.R. 2009 Seed germination characteristics of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) Nat. Areas J. 29 188 192
Fedewa, C.A. & Stewart, J.R. 2011 Field establishment of little bluestem and prairie dropseed under managed conditions Native Plants J. 12 111 117
Narem, D. & Meyer, M.H. 2017 Native prairie graminoid host plants of Minnesota and the upper Midwest and associated Lepidoptera: A literature review J. Lepidopterists Soc. 71 225 235
Nuzzo, V. 1978 Propagation and planting of prairie forbs and grasses in southern Wisconsin, p. 182–189. In: D.C. Glenn-Lewin and R.Q. Landers (eds.). Proceedings of the Vth Midwest Prairie Conference, 22–24 Aug. 1976, Ames, IA
Prairie Moon Nursery 2019 Sporobolus heterolepis prairie dropseed. 11 Apr. 2019. <https://www.prairiemoon.com/sporobolus-heterolepis-prairie-dropseed-prairie-moon-nursery.html>
Prairie Nursery 2019 Seed propagation information. 12 Jan. 2019. <https://www.prairienursery.com/resources-and-guides/seeds-and-seed-mixes/documents/seed-propagation.pdf>
R Core Team 2017 R: A language and environment for statistical computing. 10 July 2018. <http://www.R-project.org/>
Rock, H.W. 1977 Prairie propagation handbook. 5th ed. Wehr Nature Center, Franklin, WI
Schramm, P. 1978 Do’s and don’ts of prairie restoration, p. 139–150. In: D.C. Glenn-Lewin and R.Q. Landers (eds.). Proceedings of the Vth Midwest Prairie Conference, 22–24 Aug. 1976, Ames, IA
Steffen, J. 1997 Seed treatment and propagation methods, p. 151–162. In: S. Packard and C.F. Mutel (eds.). The tallgrass restoration handbook. Island Press, Washington, DC
U.S. Department of Agriculture 2019 Sporobolus heterolepis legal status. 12 Feb. 2019. <https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SPHE>