Flint Hills Tallgrasses

Images of tallgrass and illustration of grass roots
Illustration of prairie plant roots and surface growth. The four dominant tallgrasses are highlighted with a red box.

Heidi Natura, Conservation Research Institute, 1997

Tall grass and deep roots

Many of these grasses can reach 6 to 8 feet or more in height, with most reaching their full height, given the right location, moisture, and other growing conditions, in the late summer and fall, leading to the helpful phrase “tall in the fall.”

The deep roots of tallgrass prairie grasses enables them to survive harsh conditions, with over 75% of the plant’s biomass located underground. This dense network of roots binds the soil together, like steel in concrete, and helps the grasses absorb moisture and nutrients.

Image Credits

The images in the photo galleries below (unless otherwise noted) are credited to Mike Haddock, Agriculture Librarian and Chair of the Sciences Department at Kansas State University Libraries and editor of the website


These are the four dominant grasses of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie ecosystem, Big bluestem, Indiangrass, Little bluestem, and Switchgrass. Nearly 75% of the grasses growing in the Kansas Flint Hills are one or more of these four species. However, over 70 different species of grass have been identified in the Kansas Flint Hills region.

Upland tallgrass prairie grasses

Upland tallgrass prairie is prime grazing land for a wide range of grazing animals, such as cattle and bison. Shallow, rocky soils and steep hillsides make upland tallgrass prairie difficult to plow for crops, which helps to preserve more of its original characteristics, like high plant diversity and dense, deep root networks. These combine to make upland tallgrass prairie very resilient and adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions.

Bottomland tallgrass prairie grasses

Bottomland tallgrass prairie remains an extremely rare part of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in the Kansas Flint Hills. These large, level areas with their deep, nutrient-rich soils and better access to moisture were ideal for the planting of crops and other agricultural uses. Since bottomland tallgrass prairie is so rare and could support some of the tallest tallgrasses, the preserve is working to restore several hundred acres of this nearly extinct area to its natural state.

Introduced and invasive species

These grasses can be found in some areas of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, presenting problems in certain circumstances. Some have been introduced for their forage value and for use in lawns, while others are less desirable native species that can become invasive in the right condtions. They can all fiercely compete with more desirable grass species for resources and for that reason the preserve monitors them closely.


To find more information:
1. Highlight the name of the plant you wish to know more about.
2. Right-click with a mouse or choose "Look Up" on a mobile device and select a search option.
3. Depending on your browser and search option, a sidebar or new window will appear with more sources of information about your selected plant.

BARNYARD GRASS Echinochloa crusgalli



BLUESTEM, BIG Andropogon gerardii

BLUESTEM, CAUCASIAN V Bothriochloa bladhii

BLUESTEM, LITTLE Schizachyrium scoparium

BLUESTEM, SILVER Andropogon saccharoides

BROME, DOWNY Bromus tectorum

BROME, JAPANESE Bromus japonicus

BROME, SMOOTH Bromus inermis

BUFFALO GRASS Buchloe dactyloides
CANADA WILD RYE Elymus canadensis
EASTERN GAMMAGRASS Tripsacum dactyloides
FALL WITCHGRASS Digitaria cognata var. cognata

FOWL MANNAGRASS Glyceria striata

FOXTAIL, CAROLINA Alopecurus carolinianus

FOXTAIL, GREEN Setaria viridis

FOXTAIL, YELLOW Setaria glauca
GRAMA, BLUE Bouteloua gracilis

GRAMA, HAIRY Bouteloua hirsuta

GRAMA , SIDEOATS Bouteloua curtipendula
HAIRY CRABGRASS Digitaria sanguinalis

HAIRYSEED PASPALUM Paspalum pubiflorum
INDIAN GRASS Sorghastrum nutans
JOHNSON GRASS V Sorghum halepense

JOINTED GOATGRASS Aegilops cylindrica

JUNEGRASS Koeleria pyramidata
LITTLE BARLEY Hordeum pusillum
NODDING FESCUE Festuca obtusa
OBOVATE BEAKGRAIN Diarrhena obovate

OLDFIELD THREEAWN Aristida oligantha
PANICUM, FALL Panicum dichotomiflorus

PANICUM, SCRIBNER Dichanthelium oligosanthes

PANICUM, TANGELED Dichanthelium acuminatum

PLAINS MUHLY Muhlenbergia cuspidata

PRAIRIE CORDGRASS Spartina pectinata

PRAIRIE CUPGRASS Eriochloa contracta

PURPLE LOVEGRASS Eragrostis spectabilis

PURPLETOP Triden flavus
RICE CUTGRASS Leersia oryzoides

ROUGH BARNYARD GRASS Echinochloa muricata

ROUGH DROPSEED Sporobolus asper
SANDBUR Cenchrus longispinus

STINKGRASS Eragrostis cilianensis

SWITCHGRASS Panicum virgatum
TICKLEGRASS Agrostis hyemalis
UMBRELLA GRASS Fuirena simplex
VINE-MESQUITE Panicum obtusum

VIRGINIA WILD RYE Elymus virginicus
WESTERN WHEATGRASS Agropyron smithii

WHITEGRASS Leersia virginica

WINDMILL GRASS Chloris verticillata

WIRESTEM MUHLY Muhlenbergia frondosa

WITCHGRASS Panicum capillare

Useful books and plant identification websites

  • Barnard, Iralee. Field Guide to the Common Grasses of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. University Press of Kansas, 2014.
  • Brown, Lauren. Grasses: An Identification Guide. Houghton Mifflin, 1979.
  • Great Plains Flora Association. T.M. Barkley, editor. Flora of the Great Plains. University Press of Kansas, 1986.
  • Haddock, Michael John. Wildflowers and Grasses of Kansas: A Field Guide. University Press of Kansas, 2005.
  • Clark, Lynn G. and Richard W. Pohl. Agnes Chase’s First Book of Grasses. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.
  • Kansas Native Plants Society:
  • Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses:
  • United States Department of Agriculture PLANTS database:

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Last updated: March 17, 2021