River Oats is a handsome native cool-season grass, named for its oat-like seed-heads and fondness for river and stream banks, where it can aid in bank stabilization. It’s relative, Sea Oats (Uniola paniculata), on the east coast and Gulf of Mexico serves the same function for beach dunes. Chasmanthium latifolium (previously known as Uniola latifolia) also goes by the names Wild Oats, Spangle Grass (I like this one), Flathead Oats, Inland Sea Oats, and others.
This grass likes to grow in clumps 2-5 feet tall, although I wouldn’t describe it as a true bunch-grass. The seed-heads are in attractive panicles on gracefully drooping pedicels and change color throughout the season from an early translucent green to a rich brown later in the summer and fall. It is a low-maintenance grass that, in our
yard, tolerates fairly deep shade in healthy clumps, as well as full sunlight, and moist to fairly dry areas. We have not watered it during some very hot and dry periods, and it seems unaffected. It is described as a shade-loving species, but basically seems to be fairly unfussy. In fact, it tends to be so happy that it can become rather rambunctious in its wanderings, and we have manually pulled it out of some areas of our yard where it was getting too ambitious. Pruning the seed-heads before fall can help control its expansion, or if concerned about it getting out of control, plants can be confined to pots. It propagates by seed, plant division and rhizomes.
The seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals, and it is said to attract butterflies, although I can’t say that I have observed many butterflies hanging around it in our yard. Grazers and browsers are said to find it quite palatable. Its usefulness for people, aside from its ornamental qualities, is limited to some use in erosion control and bank stabilization, although one Native American group was said to use its seeds for porridge. It shines in plant arrangements, both dried and fresh. Nadia once used River Oats and other natives to beautifully decorate an old gate from my parents’ farm, which sat in front of our fireplace for two or three years (until we could afford to finally get the fireplace fixed, forcing the gate into retirement).
In short, River Oats are easy to grow and nearly maintenance-free, except for keeping them under control. If that’s a concern, be warned—-they are not voracious, but they are persistent.
Links to C. latifolium information: