By Jennifer Barbour
October is the peek month for this beautiful native grass. We’ll enjoy the brilliant purple and cream-colored plumes into November, but it’s not uncommon to see faded blooms endure throughout the winter. Take a closer look at the blossom of this grass and you’ll find that the wispy blossoms comprise the plant’s seeds. Plant lovers have been known to question its place in the grass family because of the round, rush-like blades it appears to have, but on uncurling the individual blades, sweet grass displays a typical grass blade structure.
Sweet grass is found along the coast from North Carolina to Florida, and west to Texas. It prefers full sun and sandy soil, usually growing on sand dunes and along the edges of freshwater and brackish marshes on barrier islands, which is why landscapers often utilize this hardy plant along roadsides. The Gullah people of the Lowcountry are responsible for making sweet grass so famous. They have used this plant for centuries to make their renowned sweet grass baskets. The tradition of making these baskets, passed on in families from generation to generation, is a glimpse into living history. The baskets are nearly identical to those made hundreds of years ago in the West African rice culture. Wild sweet grass is now very difficult to find due to habitat loss (development along dunes and marsh edges) and overharvesting. However, Kiawah Island has had enough of a sweet grass bounty to allow local basket makers to harvest sweet grass once a year. Pulling the grass blades out by hand is also a healthy means of pruning this plant, encouraging growth for the following year. Maybe you’ll buy a basket for a good friend, or simply enjoy the wispy blooms as fall deepens into another mild winter.