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Anthoxanthum nitens

Sweet grass, vanilla grass

Plant Details

Common Name: Sweet grass, vanilla grass
Family: Poaceae (grasses family)
Mature Height: 6" - 2'
Sun Requirement: Sun to part shade
Moisture Requirement: Medium - moist, Moist
Flower Color: White, Green
Bloom Time: Early summer (June - July)
Seed Collection Date: Mid summer (July - August)

Anthoxanthum nitens Sweetgrass
Anthoxanthum nitens Sweetgrass
Anthoxanthum nitens Sweetgrass
Anthoxanthum nitens Sweetgrass

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Anthoxanthum is Latin for yellow grasses; nitens is Latin for thriving.

Native Habitat

Brackish or salt marsh shores and river shorelines.

Garden Uses

In optimal rich, moist soil, sweet grass will spread up to 2' per year, making it useful for soil stabilization, but difficult to control or eradicate. Sandy, well-drained areas will require mulch and watering. It is not a solo turf grass. Deep rhizomes allow it to survive fire damage.


This aromatic, perennial grass is native to both North America and Europe. It has a sweet scent due to the presence of coumarin. It is typically found mixing with other species.

Leaves and Stems

The thin, hollow, erect stems of sweet grass can reach 4" to 24". Green blades arise among the dead foliage of the previous year. Leaf sheaths can be smooth or covered with fine hairs. Blades measure 4" to 16" long and 1/4" wide, and can be rolled or flat.


Both fertile and sterile florets are very small (1/8"), green to cream, on flower heads (inflorescences) that measure from 2" to 3". The lower branches of the flower heads may be drooping or spreading. The lower florets are staminate, glumes are approximately equal. Lower and upper lemmas have short hairs, tan to golden brown.


The fruit of sweet grass is a caryopsis (grain). Not many fruits are produced and they have relatively few seeds, making the plant somewhat infertile.

Animal Associates

None noted.


Sweet grass is difficult to grow from seed. It spreads by underground rhizomes, up to 24" per year. Divisions are best transplanted in spring or autumn.

Ethnobotanical Uses

Sweet grass is traditionally used by indigenous people medicinally, for basketry, and/or for sacred purification ceremonies (smudging). For this reason, it should not be harvested from the wild.

Garden Location

Teaching Garden, South Woods (see garden map)


Native Plant Trust 


Jepson Herbarium

Prairie Moon Nursery 


United States Depaertment of Agriculture

Plant Profile by Kate O'Dell