Plant Guide > Grasses > Vanilla Grass

Vanilla Grass


Hierochloe odorata (L.) Wahlenb.

In all the fragrance of outdoor life the grasses bear their part in diffusing that most subtle essence which is as untraceable as the odour of spring. Vanilla Grass is one of the most fragrant grasses, and its perfume in the air suggests that of delicate orchids hidden among sedges and rushes by the brookside.

Vanilla Grass is found in abundance only in the more Northern States and in Canada, but as far south as New Jersey it is occasionally found in damp soil. In bloom the short panicles are ornamented in chestnut-brown and purple, but it is the long-leaved sterile shoots which have gained for the plant a wide recognition far from its native meadows.

These leaves are very fragrant in drying, and are gathered by Indians who weave them into many varieties of baskets and placques. It is even said that European peasants attach to the plant some mysterious power of inducing sleep, and that bunches of the leaves are sold in the north of Europe to be suspended in sleeping-rooms.

When, in olden time, the custom still of scattering sweet-scented grasses before the churches of northern Europe on Saints'-days and holy festivals, this plant received the name of Holy Grass and was used with the less strongly scented Sweet Vernal-grass to make fragrant the pathways leading to shrines of the saints.

Fragrant grasses were at one time much lauded by agriculturists, who thought that sweet grasses should improve the flavour of butter and milk, but alas for theories! it was proved that Vanilla Grass and Sweet Vernal-grass were not only valueless, but were even disliked by cattle.

Vanilla Grass. Holy Grass. Seneca Grass. Hierochloe odorata (L.) Wahlenb.

Perennial, from creeping rootstocks.

Stem 1-2 1/2 ft. tall, slender, erect. Ligule 1"-2" long. Stem leaves very short, basal leaves, and those of sterile shoots, long and narrow.

Panicle 2'-4' long, pyramidal, open, somewhat 1-sided. Spikelets 3-flowered, 2"-3" long, chestnut-brown or purplish; upper flower perfect; lower flower staminate. Scales 5; outer scales nearly equal, smooth; 3d and 4th scales hairy; flowering scale hairy at apex. Stamens 2 or 3. A very fragrant grass.

Moist grounds, May to July.

Newfoundland to Alaska, south to New Jersey and Colorado.