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Eastern Gamagrass

Tripsacum dactyloides

Large grass suitable for wildlife cover and forage; host of the golden byssus butterfly

Note: This item is sold by the PLS pound.


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Eastern Gamagrass is a perennial warm season (C4 photosynthesis) grass. It can live to be over 50 years old. It has relatively wide leaf blades, with a noticeable white central vein. Because of this, many people confuse it with Johnsongrass. Eastern Gamagrass is distantly related to corn. The male flower parts resemble a corn plant’s tassel. The female flower part is directly below the male florets, and the flower spikes resemble fingers resulting in the Latin name Tripsacum dactyloides. The flower spikes form seed heads which are similar in shape and size to a stack of pencil erasers. The seeds need to undergo cold, moist stratification to germinate and should be planted 1-2″ deep. We offer the following varieties/cultivars: Verl/Nemaha mix and PMK-24. We have offered Missouri ecotype in the past; however, quantity has been limited.

The root system

Eastern Gamagrass’s impressive root system is extensive and deep. It has been thoroughly researched by Clark et al. in a 1998 Plant and Soil journal article, “Eastern Gamagrass Root Penetration into and Chemical Properties of Claypan Soils.” The roots commonly extend deeper than a man is tall. Occasionally, they will grow through dense soil layers that are impenetrable to many plant roots such as clay pans. This allows the roots to access water and nutrients that most plants cannot. Despite their length, the life of the roots is less than 2 years meaning that the plant is always replacing old roots. Those old root channels provide easy avenues for the growth of new Eastern Gammagrass roots or even the roots of other species.

Eastern Gamagrass roots have a unique ability to withstand waterlogged soils. Air passages within the roots, called aerenchyma, allow air to move from above ground into the roots. The plant uses this oxygen for its own needs but may also use it to ameliorate unfavorable soil conditions such as the oxidation of toxic manganese to nontoxic forms. Furthermore, its roots tolerate soil acidity and aluminum toxicity. Eastern Gamagrass roots can also be colonized by arbuscular mycorrhizae; this fungi commonly benefits plants by improving plant establishment and acquiring water and nutrients, especially phosphorus, for the plant. Associative nitrogen fixation, in which bacteria give the plant nitrogen in exchange for food, was reported by other researchers, Brejda et al., in the Journal of Range Management article, “Indications of Associative Nitrogen Fixation in Eastern Gamagrass”.

Wildlife notes

Large herbivores readily eat the nutritious leaves of Eastern Gamagrass, and they were likely an important food source for bison and elk. The large stature of the plant provides protective cover for various wildlife species. The golden byssus butterfly caterpillar (and other insects) use Eastern Gamagrass as a food source. We have noticed that deer particularly like to bed down in Gamagrass on hot days!

Forage notes

Icecream Grass is a common nickname for Eastern Gamagrass due to the fact that it is highly palatable. It is also nutritious and quite productive. It is commonly grazed and hayed and makes a great alternative to annual silage crops. Data from the Plant Materials Center at Elsberry, MO indicates that the crude protein level of regrowth Eastern Gamagrass is above 11% and often 12-13% throughout the growing season with early spring levels measuring around 18%.

This grass has less stem in comparison to other grasses and has very consistent forage production during the growing season. In comparison to the introduced forage species, Caucasian Bluestem and Bermudagrass, Eastern Gamagrass does not dip in production during the dry periods of the summer. Eastern Gamagrass greens up early in the spring compared to some other warm season grasses. This is desirable on one hand, but in a cool season dominated grazing system, it overlaps with the growth curve of the cool seasons. This grass does not appreciate continuous grazing. Rest periods of ~45 days are needed to maintain a balance between stand vigor, forage yield and forage quality. Also, a 45 day rest period prior to a killing frost is desirable.

Landscaping notes

Due to its size, Eastern Gamagrass is not commonly thought of as a landscaping plant. However, it makes a nice accent plant and works well as a shrub substitute. It does well in moist areas. The rich green leaves often give the plant a spiky look. In the fall, the leaves turn to a pretty red-bronze color. In most situations, the plant is long-lived and does not spread aggressively.

Watch videos about this plant:

Amazing Summertime Forage

Interesting Facts About the Roots of Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)

Queen of the Grasses – Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)


Additional information

Weight N/A

Full Sun

Seeding Rate

14 PLS lbs/acre


Average, Moist



Bloom Month

Jun, Jul

Specialty Uses

Butterfly, Edible

Cattle Palatability


# seeds/pkt


Packet coverage area

5 sq. ft

Life Cycle


What is PLS?

Pure Live Seed (PLS) is the portion of good viable seed per pound. It is a measure of the seed that is alive and able to sprout into plants. This product is sold by PLS ounce/pound. To provide one ounce/pound of viable seed, you will receive more than one ounce/pound of product. Read more about PLS here.