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Perennial Plant of the Year™

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2014 Perennial Plant of the Year™

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Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'
Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ is the Perennial Plant Association’s 2014 Perennial Plant of the Year™. Panicum virgatum, pronounced PAN-ic-um ver-GATE-um, carries the common name of switch grass or switchgrass.

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Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 10

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Light: Switch grass performs best in full sun and will tolerate light shade.

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Soil: Panicum is famously adaptable to almost any soil.

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Uses: Switchgrass is a stalwart selection in the full-sun, especially native, meadow or prairie gardens. Flower arrangers find the foliage and plumes useful for arrangements. Finally, this warm-season perennial grass offers golden fall color.

Unique Qualities: ‘Northwind’ is very easy to grow. It will enhance any sunny border, not just a native, meadow- or prairie-style garden. ‘Northwind’ has a refined, garden-worthy appearance and habit.

Maintenance: There are no serious insect or disease problems with Switchgrass. Plants are best divided in spring. ‘Northwind’ is not patented. It can be reproduced from divisions. Liners are available from numerous propagators, including members of the Perennial Plant Association.

This warm-season perennial grass has blue-green foliage and stands more erect than is typical of the species. ‘Northwind’ is only the third ornamental grass to be named Plant of the Year™ following Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, 2001, and Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, 2009.

Pan virg Northwind hab 960The genus Panicum, native to North America, is a member of the Poaceae family (formerly family Gramineae). Regardless of nomenclature, members of Panicum are excellent perennial grasses for the landscape. The genus botanical name (Panicum) is thought to derive from the Latin pan, bread. One species (P. miliaceum, common millet) has been used for centuries to make flour.

The origin of the common name switchgrass or switch grass is obscure. “Switch” is believed to be a variation of Middle English “quitch,” among whose meanings is “quick,” or alive, suggesting the grass is difficult to kill. Others say the name derives from the swishing sound the grass makes when tossed by the wind.

Roy Diblik selected ‘Northwind’ from a population of Panicum virgatum he raised using wild-collected seed from plants growing along railroad tracks in South Elgin, Illinois. In July 1983, he noticed that one plant had wider leaves and a very upright growth habit, unlike the typical arching form of the others. He gradually built up stock of the upright one. In 1992, when Northwind Perennial Farm opened, he introduced it and named it ‘Northwind’.

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ spreads slowly to form erect clumps of slender, steel-blue leaves about five feet tall. In late summer, the foliage is topped by a haze of showy, finely-textured flower panicles that rise to six or even seven feet, and that open golden yellow and mature to beige.

Deep roots make ‘Northwind’ remarkably drought-tolerant, once established. And like most ornamental grasses, Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’ is seldom eaten by deer.

The Perennial Plant of the Year™

The Perennial Plant of the Year™ (POY™) program began in 1990 to showcase a perennial that is a standout among its competitors. Perennials chosen are suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease-free. If you are looking for an excellent perennial for your next landscape project or something reliable for your gardens, make sure to check out the Perennial Plant of the Year™ archive list. For information about other perennials, be sure to search the Plant Database.

Since the Perennial Plant of the Year™ was introduced in 1990, the Perennial Plant Association has received frequent inquiries about how the Perennial Plant of the Year™ is selected. The selection process is quite simple – PPA members vote for the Perennial Plant of the Year™ each summer. At that time, in addition to the vote, each member may also nominate up to two plants for future consideration. The Perennial Plant of the Year™ committee reviews the nominated perennials (more than 400 different perennials are often nominated each year) and selects 3 or 4 perennials to be placed on the ballot.

Nominations generally need to satisfy the following criteria:

  • Suitability for a wide range of climatic conditions
  • Low-maintenance requirements
  • Relative pest- and disease-resistance
  • Ready availability in the year of promotion
  • Multiple seasons of ornamental interest

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