Hierochloe odorata

Sweet Grass

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The natural history of the northwoods



  • Hierochloe, from the Greek, hieros, "sacred", and chloe, "grass"
  • odorata, from the Latin, "sweet smelling, fragrant; ill smelling"
  • Common Name, from the distinctive sweet scent
  • Other common names include: Zebrovka ("the place where bison

  • graze"), Buffalo Grass, Holy Grass, Vanilla Grass, Feur Moire (Gaelic)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Liliopsida, the Monocotyledons
      • Subclass Commelinidae
        • Order Cyperales
          • Family Poaceae, the Bluegrasses
            • Genus Hierochloe,
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 40854


  • Scent is distinctive. Identification difficult before scent develops.
  • For additional detail, check out Redwood City Seed.


  • A native, rhizomatous perennial grass.
  • Leaves few and short; leaves of sterile shoots 4"-12" long.
  • Stems hollow, erect, 8"-24" tall; arising from among the dead foliage of the previous year.
  • Rhizomes slender and creeping; rhizomes and roots forming dense mat beneath the soil surface.
  • Flower structure an open pyramidal panicle 1¾"-4¾" long, with slender branches. Spikelets three-flowered.
  • Fruit a caryopsis.


  • Circumboreal; common above 40º north latitude in Asia, Europe, and North America.
  • In North America, from Newfoundland to Alaska, south to New Jersey and west to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern California.


  • Wet meadows, low prairies, edges of sloughs and marshes, bogs, shaded streambanks, lakeshores, and cool mountain canyons.
  • Usually found in mid-successional communities. It can withstand some soil disturbance.
  • Usually grows among other grasses or shrubs; seldom in pure stands.


  • Stems and leaves probably killed by fire during the growing season.
  • Creeping rhizomes often fairly deep; may sprout after aerial portions are burned. Stems rise from dead foliage of the preceding year. This foliage may protect basal buds from fire damage in the spring when moisture content of dead foliage is high. But in fall, it is more likely that the buds would be damaged by heat produced when the dried foliage burns.
  • Member of some meadow communities succeeded by forest in the absence of disturbance. Fire exclusion from these communities may favor other species over Sweet Grass.



  • Used for religious purposes both North America and Europe. Some Native American peoples used it as incense for purification of places and things. Strewn before church doors on saints' days in northern Europe.
  • Dried and braided to preserve scent.
  • Used in France to flavor candy, tobacco, soft drinks, and perfumes.
  • Brewed as a tea, was used for coughs and sore throats, chapping and windburn, and as an eyewash.
  • Used by Native Americans for basket making.


  • Dried foliage is fragrant due to coumarin content; used as incense and in making perfume.
  • Not sufficiently dense in growth for use as turf grass.


  • Spreads vigorously by creeping rhizomes which are often fairly deep.
  • Also reproduces by seed but is largely infertile, producing relatively few seedheads, containing few seeds.
  • In spring, creeping rhizomes produce inconspicuous fruiting stems with leaves that are few and short. Somewhat later, long leaves develop from separate sterile basal off-shoots. Stems shrivel soon after flowering.


  • Division most successful method.


  • Prefers moist, sunny site.
  • A sod forming grass; spreads and can become invasive. Encirling the planting with a root barrier should be considered if unrestrained growth is undesireable.
  • If harvesting, fertilize regularly to restore soil fertility.


Boreal border
Last updated on 4 June 2000