Species Spotlight – Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass)

Species Spotlight – Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass)

Eragrostis spectabilis (purple lovegrass) is a ubiquitous native grass in the Piedmont, Coastal Plain, and New England physiographic provinces and occurs in at least a few counties for all states east of the Rockies.   Most commonly found in dry, rocky areas or along mown rights of way in full sun and with little competition.  An excellent species for infertile, urban soils where a colorful natural-like aesthetic is desired.  The grass blade clump itself is quite modest; its the flower heads that reach up and turn an authentic reddish-purple color for a few weeks in early fall.  The colors in the picture below are untouched.  The flower/seed heads turn a typical light brown once fully matured and dried.

2015 ArcheWild - Eragrostis spectabilis in situ-001
2015 ArcheWild – Eragrostis spectabilis in situ

One of the best places to observe Eragrostis spectabilis are dry areas under electric utility lines that are regularly maintained by mowing.  Easily out-competed by taller, broader species, you’ll find this species in the driest and rockiest places where little else will grow, often in and on the edges of the access roads.  Use liberally in dry, upland meadow mixes to provide fast, reliable establishment.  Can be used as a nurse species while larger plants become established.  Common associates include, Juncus tenuis, Schizachyrium scoparium var. scoparium, Tridens flavus, Euthamia graminifolia, Rosa carolina, Helianthus divaricatus, and other light textured dry-soil native species.

Eragrostis spectabilis range USDA
Eragrostis spectabilis range map USDA

Eragrostis spectabilis is easily grown from seed although seed collection can become a bit tedious as the seeds are about 0.5 mm wide in loose racemes.  Seeds are not evident when collected seed heads.

ArcheWild staff threshes, screens, and then uses light puffs of air to separate chaff from the chestnut brown seeds.

2016 ArcheWild - Eragrostis spectabilis seed cleaning
2016 ArcheWild – Eragrostis spectabilis seed cleaning

There are no current subspecies of purple lovegrass recognized by the USDA.