Panicum virgatum 'Squaw' - Squaw Switch Grass

At a mature height of 110 cm (44"), this is a perfect Switch grass for small gardens. It is attractive as a medium green foliage plant from early summer on. By mid-summer it is showing shades of pink in the inflorescence. But it is in the autumn when 'Squaw' is in full colour - a dark wine red. It can even steal attention away from the asters and chrysanthemums.

Pancium virgatum 'Squaw' can also make a perfect "good-neighbour" fence while at the same time attracting wildlife (especially quail) into the winter garden. This plant sways beautifully in a breeze.

Sara Douglas Scott, Albuquerque, NM: “Never would I have imagined that the field clumps I received in mid-May would be nearly 4 feet high and full of beautiful pink blooms by mid-August as shown in the photo. And they only became more beautiful as the inflorescences turned burgundy in September. If you can be patient as this grass slowly emerges from dormancy in the spring, you will be treated to stunning summer and autumn color as well as attractive winter texture.”

We carry three Panicums that have red foliage in the fall. Here are the differences between 'Squaw', 'Rotstrahlbusch' and 'Shenandoah':

  • 'Squaw' and 'Shenandoah' have a cascading form, while 'Rotstrahlbusch' is distinctly upright
  • 'Squaw' and 'Shenandoah' are the same height while 'Rotstrahlbusch' is smaller
  • leaves of 'Rotstrahlbusch' are slightly narrower than 'Squaw' and 'Shenandoah'
  • the foliage of 'Squaw' is green until fall; leaves of 'Rotstrahlbusch' are tinged with red all growing season; 'Shenandoah' starts green and the leaf tips turn dark red leaf in July
  • the fall color of 'Squaw' and 'Shenandoah' is burgundy; 'Rotstrahlbusch' is red
  • all three have pink to burgundy seedheads

Description: warm season*; sod forming (slow spreader)
Foliage is green in summer, a deep burgundy in the autumn; 14 mm (1/2") wide; 100-125 cm (40-50") in height
Flowers tinged pink, seeds maturing to burgundy; 125-150 cm (50-60") tall

Ideal conditions: full sun; prefers moist fertile soil, but adapts to a wide range of soil conditions

Coldest zone: 4 (find your zone; further info on plant hardiness)

Partner with: Aster, Boltonia, Sedum

Season of interest: July to winter

Drought tolerance rating: 2 (water to root depth once every 2 weeks); further info

The species is native to: prairies and open ground, open woods, brackish marshes from eastern Canada to central and eastern US and south to Central America.

Recommended spacing between plants: 60-100 cm (24-40") why such a difference?

When to divide: when it shows signs of life in the spring, continuing until the new growth is about 12" tall; only in the spring (further info on dividing grasses)

When to plant or transplant: plant bare root plants only in late spring to early summer, when the soil is warm, about the same time you plant your bean or corn seeds. The roots will grow only in warm soil. Planting too early in the spring may cause the roots to rot. Similar story in the fall when the roots may not grow enough to establish before the cold and wet of winter, resulting in the demise of the plant.

When to cut back: before the new growth starts to appear, but after the cold weather is over. Cut back to about 3-4" from the crown of the plant.

Pronunciation: Panicum (PAN-ih-kum) virgatum (veer-GAH-tum)


*a warm season grass likes to grow in warm weather. Before it will show signs of life in the spring, the soil must warm up, and be warm for possibly as long as two weeks.

More ornamental grasses

Compare Panicum virgatum 'Squaw' to our other grasses in this handy chart.

Panicum virgatum 'Squaw'
Panicum virgatum 'Squaw' (back row)


Garden and photo credit (lower left) Sara Douglas Scott,
Albuquerque, NM, USA

from the USDA website: states and provinces where
Panicum virgatum is native