2014 Perennial Plant of the Year
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 10, 2013
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
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, email@example.com