Northern Sea Oats

aka inland sea oats, Indian woodoats, wild oats, and many more

Chasmanthium latifolium; Poaceae (grass family)


I may have to retire “Flower of the Day”, as there are fewer species of flowers in bloom now.  But plants in fruit and seed can be lovely, too.


Northern sea oats is widespread in the open areas and not-too-deep woods of the Potomac gorge.  The plant grows to about 5 feet tall, with arching stems and drooping spikelets.


To my amazement and dismay, I went this whole season without getting a decent picture of it in bloom, though it blooms from May through August.

Its native range extends from Arizona to Pennsylvania, and in the midwest somewhat further north to Michigan, where it’s listed as threatened.  The plant is only distantly related to the edible common oats (Avena sativa).  Once again I’m going to rant a little about the uselessness of common names.  This is a southern, inland species of grass that isn’t an oat, so how did it get the moniker “northern sea oats”?!

Woodoats makes a lovely garden plant, though it can be aggressive.  Grasses don’t get the respect they deserve from home gardeners.  If you’re interested in the subject look up Rick Darke’s The Color Encyclopedia of Ornamental Grasses, (Timber Press, 1999) once known as the authoritative guide.  While looking up that link I learned that he’s since published another one, even more comprehensive.  Uh oh, looks like I’m heading to the bookstore soon.


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