What Is Sweet Vernal Grass: Learn About Sweet Vernal In Landscapes

Image by Kristian Peters

By Mike Johnson, Avid Gardener

The aromatic scent of sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) makes it an excellent choice for dried flower arrangements or potpourri. It has been known to retain its scent for years. But because of its aggressive nature, you have to be careful how you grow it.

What is Sweet Vernal Grass?

Sweet vernal is a small, 2-foot (60 cm.) tall, cool season perennial grass. It grows best in sun to light shade. It is sometimes referred to as vanilla grass because of the aroma emitted when it is cut – the smell of fresh hay with a hint of vanilla. This sweet, fresh hay smell comes from the substance coumarin, also found in sweet woodruff.

Sweet vernal plants flower earlier than most other grasses, from early to mid-spring, with dense yellow clusters which are a favorite food plant for the larvae of brown and skipper butterflies. Despite some safety concerns, one of the sweet vernal uses is as an ingredient in medicines for headache, nausea and sleeplessness.

Sweet Vernal in Landscapes

Sweet vernal is common in meadows, pastures and other grasslands. In the wild, it seeds readily and the seeds can be widely dispersed by wind, water and vehicles.

In many regions, it is considered to be invasive because it can take over a grassland area in a relatively short period of time. In facts, because it does well in poor land conditions and the seed is cheap and abundant, another of the sweet vernal uses is in the roughs on golf courses.

Controlling Sweet Vernal Grass

Because of its aggressive spreading nature, however, it is best to grow sweet vernal plants in containers rather than directly in garden beds. Even if grown in containers, there is a risk of the plant spreading to unwanted areas.

If you want to prevent the spread of seeds in your yard or garden, do not allow the sweet vernal plant to flower and seed. If you decide to let some seed heads remain and you end up with a few unwanted plants, the roots are shallow enough where the sweet vernal plants can be pulled up by hand or dug up with a hoe.

With the proper care and maintenance, you can effectively control the growth of these plants, which will allow you to enjoy them in your dried arrangements.

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