Native Warm-Season Grasslands


Before settlement, nearly one-third of Missouri was native prairie which included many warm-season grass species. Today less than 0.5 percent of these prairies remain. But many landowners are rediscovering the benefits of Missouri’s native warm-season grasses for livestock forage and wildlife habitat.

Warm-season grass species include:

  • Big and little bluestem
  • Indian grass
  • Switchgrass
  • Eastern gama grass

Although native warm-season grasses have a shorter growing season, their deep root systems make more efficient use of water and soil nutrients. This characteristic is what has made these grasses survive, and even thrive, over the centuries.

Grassland with a mixture of species of grass
Native warm-season grassland with big bluestem and switchgrass.
Jim Rathert
Right to Use

Benefits of Adding Warm-Season Grasses to Your Land

  • They provide high-nutrition forage at the time of year when cool-season grasses have reduced nutrition. (A study in Nebraska found that adding warm-season species to cool-season pastures packed on 70 additional pounds per head per grazing season.)
  • They grow and thrive in the heat of summer when cool-season grasses do not.
  • They yield as much per acre as cool-season grasses.
  • They can handle drought much better than cool-season grasses.
  • They grow well with legumes and other native forbs, which are both beneficial to livestock and wildlife.
  • They need to be cut later in the season (if used for hay) than cool-season grasses, thus providing more time for ground-nesting wildlife to raise and fledge young before haying begins and reducing the rush of work packed into the spring farming season.
  • They tend to need less fertilizer and lime than cool-season grasses and thus can save you time and money.


Native grasses need leaf surface to continue growing vigorously. Their growth points occur higher on the stem than cool-season grasses.

With warm-season grasses:

  • Never graze lower than 6–8 inches.
  • Never mow shorter than 4 inches.
  • Never mow after Aug. 1.
  • Never graze after haying.

Habitat Hints - Native Warm Season Grasses

With severe and extreme drought conditions throughout much of the state, MDC's Seth Barrioz tells us about warm season grasses and how they fair in drought conditions.
Embed Code
Related Content