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This is one of the dominant grasses of the tallgrass prairie. Like the other dominant grasses, Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum) has a C4 metabolism that enables it to withstand summer weather that is hot and dry. This is the tallest and most robust panic grass (Panicum sp.) in Illinois, and it can be distinguished from most of the others by its size. One common species with a similar appearance that resembles a small specimen of Switch Grass is Fall Panicum (Panicum dichotomiflorum). This latter species is hairless or mostly hairless like Switch Grass, but its spikelets are smaller in size (2-3 mm.). Furthermore, the first glumes of Fall Panicum are about one-fourth the length of their spikelets, while the first glumes of Switch Grass are about two-thirds the length of their spikelets. Other tall-growing Panic Grasses have hairier sheaths and/or leaves, and they also have smaller spikelets than Switch Grass. With increases in the price of gasoline, Switch Grass has been evaluated as a possible source of alcohol that could be used as an alternative fuel. Apparently, it can produce more alcohol per acre than corn and doesn't require replanting in the spring because of its perennial habit. However, the bulkiness of its foliage could impede efficient shipping and processing.


Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© John Hilty

Source: Illinois Wildflowers


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