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SPECIES:  Hierochloe odorata
Sweetgrass seedheads. Image by Robert H. Mohlenbrock, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1992. Western wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. West Region, Sacramento.


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Walsh, Roberta A. 1994. Hierochloe odorata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 4 October 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: sweet grass to: sweetgrass. Images were also added.
ABBREVIATION: HIEODO SYNONYMS: NO-ENTRY NRCS PLANT CODE: HIOD COMMON NAMES: sweet grass sweet grass TAXONOMY: The scientific name of sweetgrass is Hierochloe odorata (L.) Beauv. (Poaceae) [12,14,15]. There are no infrataxa. LIFE FORM: Graminoid FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Sweetgrass is circumboreal [1,18] and is common above 40 degrees north latitude in Asia, Europe, and North America [20]. In North America, sweetgrass occurs from Newfoundland to Alaska [7,15,27]. Its range extends south to New Jersey and west to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and northern California [10,12,14,19].
Distribution of sweetgrass in North America. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, October 4] [30].
   FRES10  White - red - jack pine
   FRES11  Spruce - fir
   FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine
   FRES15  Oak - hickory
   FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood
   FRES18  Maple - beech - birch
   FRES19  Aspen - birch
   FRES20  Douglas-fir
   FRES21  Ponderosa pine
   FRES23  Fir - spruce
   FRES24  Hemlock - Sitka spruce
   FRES25  Larch
   FRES28  Western hardwoods
   FRES36  Mountain grasslands
   FRES37  Mountain meadows
   FRES38  Plains grasslands
   FRES39  Prairie
   FRES41  Wet grasslands

     AK  AZ  CA  CO  CT  ID  IL  IN  IA  ME
     MA  MI  MN  MT  NV  NH  NJ  NM  NY  ND
     OH  OR  PA  RI  SD  UT  VT  WA  WI  WY
     AB  BC  MB  NF  NT  NS  ON  PE  PQ  SK

    1  Northern Pacific Border
    2  Cascade Mountains
    4  Sierra Mountains
    5  Columbia Plateau
    6  Upper Basin and Range
    8  Northern Rocky Mountains
    9  Middle Rocky Mountains
   10  Wyoming Basin
   11  Southern Rocky Mountains
   13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont
   15  Black Hills Uplift
   16  Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

   K001  Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest
   K002  Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest
   K003  Silver fir - Douglas-fir forest
   K004  Fir - hemlock forest
   K005  Mixed conifer forest
   K010  Ponderosa shrub forest
   K011  Western ponderosa forest
   K012  Douglas-fir forest
   K014  Grand fir - Douglas-fir forest
   K015  Western spruce - fir forest
   K017  Black Hills pine forest
   K020  Spruce - fir - Douglas-fir forest
   K021  Southwestern spruce - fir forest
   K025  Alder - ash forest
   K026  Oregon oakwoods
   K028  Mosaic of K002 and K026
   K047  Fescue - oatgrass
   K050  Fescue - wheatgrass
   K051  Wheatgrass - bluegrass
   K052  Alpine meadows and barren
   K063  Foothills prairie
   K067  Wheatgrass - bluestem - needlegrass
   K073  Northern cordgrass prairie
   K074  Bluestem prairie
   K081  Oak savanna
   K082  Mosaic of K074 and K100
   K093  Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
   K094  Conifer bog
   K095  Great Lakes pine forest
   K096  Northeastern spruce - fir forest
   K098  Northern floodplain forest
   K099  Maple - basswood forest
   K100  Oak - hickory forest
   K101  Elm - ash forest
   K102  Beech - maple forest
   K106  Northern hardwoods
   K107  Northern hardwoods - fir forest
   K108  Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
   K110  Northeastern oak - pine forest

     1  Jack pine
     5  Balsam fir
    12  Black spruce
    13  Black spruce - tamarack
    14  Northern pin oak
    15  Red pine
    16  Aspen
    19  Gray birch - red maple
    20  White pine - northern red oak - red maple
    21  Eastern white pine
    22  White pine - hemlock
    23  Eastern hemlock
    24  Hemlock - yellow birch
    25  Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
    26  Sugar maple - basswood
    27  Sugar maple
    30  Red spruce - yellow birch
    32  Red spruce
    33  Red spruce - balsam fir
    34  Red spruce - Fraser fir
    35  Paper birch - red spruce - balsam fir
    38  Tamarack
    39  Black ash - American elm - red maple
    52  White oak - black oak - northern red oak
    53  White oak
    55  Northern red oak
    57  Yellow-poplar
    58  Yellow-poplar - eastern hemlock
    59  Yellow-poplar - white oak - northern red oak
    60  Beech - sugar maple
    61  River birch - sycamore
    62  Silver maple - American elm
    63  Cottonwood
   201  White spruce
   202  White spruce - paper birch
   203  Balsam poplar
   204  Black spruce
   205  Mountain hemlock
   206  Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
   207  Red fir
   208  Whitebark pine
   210  Interior Douglas-fir
   211  White fir
   212  Western larch
   213  Grand fir
   217  Aspen
   221  Red alder
   222  Black cottonwood - willow
   223  Sitka spruce
   224  Western hemlock
   225  Western hemlock - Sitka spruce
   226  Coastal true fir - hemlock
   227  Western redcedar - western hemlock
   229  Pacific Douglas-fir
   230  Douglas-fir - western hemlock
   231  Port-Orford-cedar
   233  Oregon white oak
   235  Cottonwood - willow
   251  White spruce - aspen
   252  Paper birch
   253  Black spruce - white spruce
   254  Black spruce -  paper birch
   244  Pacific ponderosa pine - Douglas-fir

Sweetgrass usually grows among other grasses or shrubs; it is seldom
found in pure stands [5].

Sweetgrass occurs in north-central Alberta in the wheatgrass (Agropyron
spp., sensu latu)-sedge (Carex spp.) community in low, moist areas.
Associated species include slender wheatgrass (Elymus trachycaulus),
slough sedge (Carex atherodes), false-melic (Schizachne purpurascens),
brome (Bromus spp.), reed grass (Calamagrostis spp.), meadow sedge
(Carex praticola), and American vetch (Vicia americana).  This community
is within the wheatgrass-needlegrass (Stipa spp.) association [23].

Associates of sweetgrass in the meadow stage of succession on glacial
gravel outwash terraces in south-central Alaska include boreal wildrye
(Leymus innovatus), altai fescue (Festuca altaica), bluegrass (Poa
spp.), Sierra larkspur (Delphinium glaucum), monkshood (Aconitum
delphinifolium), and northern goldenrod (Solidago multiradiata).  A
nearly continuous moss mat, primarily of mountain fern moss (Hylocomium
splendens), grows under this vegetation [32].

Associates of sweetgrass in a meadow on the banks of the Churchill
River on the Hudson Bay Lowlands in northeastern Manitoba include red
fescue (Festuca rubra), alkali grass (Puccinellia paupercula), aster
(Aster puniceus var. firmus), bittercress (Cardamine pratensis), mud
sedge (Carex limosa), parnassia (Parnassia multiseta), lomatogonium
(Lomatogonium rotatum), and plantain (Plantago maritima).  Sweetgrass
is one of the most important grasses of this community [26].


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Sweetgrass produces very little forage [20]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Sweetgrass may be useful for soil stabilization. It spreads rapidly, and provides cover against erosion. It binds soil with dense root and rhizome development [20]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Dried sweetgrass foliage is fragrant because of its coumarin content [10] and is used as incense and in making perfume [5]. The long leaves of sterile shoots are used by Native Americans in making baskets [13,17,19,33]. Sweetgrass has religious significance to some Native American peoples [5]. Sweetgrass tea was used for coughs and sore throats, to treat chapping and windburn, and as an eyewash. It was strewn before church doors on saints' days in northern Europe [5]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Sweetgrass does not have dense enough growth for turf [20].


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Sweetgrass is a native, rhizomatous perennial grass [7,12,34]. Rhizomes are slender and creeping [7,15]. Culms are hollow, erect [11], and 8 to 24 inches (20-60 cm) tall [9,12,15,16]; they arise from among the dead foliage of the previous year [7,22]. Cauline leaves are few and short; leaves of sterile shoots are 4 to 12 inches (10-30 cm) long [11,12]. The inflorescence is an open pyramidal panicle 1.6 to 4.7 inches (4-12 cm) long, with slender branches [12,15,22]. Spikelets are three-flowered [22,34]; lemmas are awnless [7,9]. The fruit is a caryopsis [22]. Rhizomes and roots form a dense mat beneath the soil surface [20]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Hemicryptophyte Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Sweetgrass spreads vigorously [9] by creeping rhizomes which are often fairly deep [15,22]. It also reproduces by seed [12,22]. However, sweetgrass is largely infertile [34]; it produces relatively few seedheads, and these contain few seeds [20]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Sweetgrass occurs in wet meadows [7,11,15,33], low prairies [22], the edges of sloughs and marshes [11], bogs [15], shaded streambanks [10], lakeshores [34], and cool mountain canyons [10]. Sweetgrass grows on moist, heavy soil near the upper areas of the tidal marshes around the coast of Nova Scotia [27]. It occurs on granular calcareous soil from glacial river deposits on the Churchill River estuary in northeastern Manitoba [26]. In northeastern Alberta, sweetgrass occurs on well-drained loamy soil with heavy clay subsoil; pH is 4.7 near the surface and increases with depth [25]. It occurs on coarse river gravel terraces covered by a 2-inch (5-cm) layer of organic material (pH 6.0) along the McKinley River in south-central Alaska [32]. Sweetgrass has been reported at the following elevations: Feet Meters Alaska 730-3,281 223-1,000 [18,32] Arizona 7,000 2,134 [19] California 6,000 1,830 [14] Colorado 7,500-11,500 2,286-3,505 [12] Utah 6,990-11,485 2,130-3,500 [34] SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Sweetgrass is usually found in mid-successional communities. It can withstand some soil disturbance. Sweetgrass was a major component of the meadow zone just above high water on the Churchill River in northeastern Manitoba. This was the earliest closed-cover successional community on the flats. Sweetgrass was not present in later successional zones [26]. Sweetgrass was a minor component of undisturbed and disturbed dry grassland sites in northeastern Alberta. Disturbance by vehicle traffic and bison had caused soil compaction and erosion [25]. Sweetgrass was a component of a wheatgrass-sedge community in north-central Alberta which had succeeded a marsh community [23]. Sweetgrass was a minor component of the meadow stage of succession on gravel outwash terraces in south-central Alaska. It was not present in earlier or later stages [32]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: In spring, creeping rhizomes of sweetgrass produce inconspicuous fruiting culms with leaves that are few and short [5]. Somewhat later, long leaves develop from separate sterile basal off-shoots [27]. Culms shrivel soon after flowering [7]. In southwestern Saskatchewan, sweetgrass first flowered, on the average, on June 2 (recorded over 6 years), the earliest date being May 17, and the latest June 22. The mean number of days in flower was 28 [3]. Sweetgrass is among the earliest flowering of Alaskan grasses. Seedheads are formed in autumn and remain small and hidden through winter in the new growing shoots, which elongate the following spring. Seedheads appear early in May, almost as soon as the grass begins spring growth. Anthesis occurs near May 20, and seed is ripe from late July to early August [20]. The following sweetgrass flowering dates have been reported: Alaska late May [20] Arizona June-July [19] Michigan spring [33] North Dakota May [4,28] South Dakota late April-July [22] Great Plains May-July [11] Southwestern United States April [7] Nova Scotia early May [27] Saskatchewan June [3]


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Sweetgrass has creeping rhizomes which are often fairly deep [15,22] and which may sprout after aerial portions are burned. Culms arise from among dead foliage of the preceding year [7]. 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. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: Rhizomatous herb, rhizome in soil


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Sweetgrass culms and leaves are probably killed by fire during the growing season. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: As of 1994, there was no information on sweetgrass postfire responses. Sweetgrass probably sprouts from the root crown and rhizomes after top-kill by fire. FIRE REGIMES:
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Sweetgrass is a member of some meadow communities succeeded by forest in the absence of disturbance. Fire exclusion from these communities may favor other species over sweetgrass.


SPECIES: Hierochloe odorata
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Chicago: The Swallow Press Inc. 666 p. [6851] 13. Hart, J. 1976. Montana--native plants and early peoples. Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society. 75 p. [9979] 14. Hickman, James C., ed. 1993. The Jepson manual: Higher plants of California. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1400 p. [21992] 15. Hitchcock, A. S. 1951. Manual of the grasses of the United States. Misc. Publ. No. 200. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Administration. 1051 p. [2nd edition revised by Agnes Chase in two volumes. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.]. [1165] 16. Hitchcock, C. Leo; Cronquist, Arthur. 1973. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press. 730 p. [1168] 17. Hull, John; Williams, Michael C. 1992. A continuity of tradition. Restoration & Management Notes. 10(1): 38-39. [19432] 18. Hulten, Eric. 1968. Flora of Alaska and neighboring territories. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1008 p. [13403] 19. Kearney, Thomas H.; Peebles, Robert H.; Howell, John Thomas; McClintock, Elizabeth. 1960. Arizona flora. 2d ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 1085 p. [6563] 20. Klebesadel, L. J. 1974. Sweet holygrass, a potentially valuable ally. Agroborealis. 6(1): 9-10. [23372] 21. Kuchler, A. W. 1964. Manual to accompany the map of potential vegetation of the conterminous United States. Special Publication No. 36. New York: American Geographical Society. 77 p. [1384] 22. Larson, Gary E. 1993. Aquatic and wetland vascular plants of the Northern Great Plains. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-238. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 681 p. [22534] 23. Moss, E. H. 1955. The vegetation of Alberta. Botanical Review. 21(9): 493-567. [6878] 24. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 25. Redmann, Robert E.; Schwarz, Arthur G. 1986. Dry grassland plant communities in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 100(4): 526-532. [4030] 26. Ritchie, J. C. 1957. The vegetation of northern Manitoba. II. A prisere on the Hudson Bay lowlands. Ecology. 38(3): 429-435. [10552] 27. Roland, A. E.; Smith, E. C. 1969. The flora of Nova Scotia. Halifax, NS: Nova Scotia Museum. 746 p. [13158] 28. Stevens, O. A. 1956. Flowering dates of weeds in North Dakota. North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station Bimonthly Bulletin. 18(6): 209-213. [5168] 29. Stickney, Peter F. 1989. Seral origin of species originating in northern Rocky Mountain forests. Unpublished draft on file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; RWU 4403 files. 7 p. [20090] 30. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2018. PLANTS Database, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (Producer). Available: [34262] 31. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Biological Survey. [n.d.]. NP Flora [Data base]. Davis, CA: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Biological Survey. [23119] 32. Viereck, Leslie A. 1966. Plant succession and soil development on gravel outwash of the Muldrow Glacier, Alaska. Ecological Monographs. 36(3): 181-199. [12484] 33. Voss, Edward G. 1972. Michigan flora. Part I. Gymnosperms and monocots. Bloomfield Hills, MI: Cranbrook Institute of Science; Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Herbarium. 488 p. [11471] 34. Welsh, Stanley L.; Atwood, N. Duane; Goodrich, Sherel; Higgins, Larry C., eds. 1987. A Utah flora. Great Basin Naturalist Memoir No. 9. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University. 894 p. [2944]

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