Native Grass Researchers Explore Biology, Culture

Aug 15th, 2006 | By | Category: 18-1: The Winding Road to Student Success, Tribal College News

GRASS WALL CONSTUCTION. Intern Katrina McClure prepares to weave a threaded stick through harvested grass bundles to bind the grass to the support poles. Photo by Julie James and Darryl Monteau

The Native Grass Project at Haskell Indian Nations University completed a second year of research and involved seven student interns and two faculty project directors. The research focused on switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), which is a warm season, perennial grass that is found throughout the United States.

Student interns involved in the project, along with a botanist, base their biological research on the identification of desirable switchgrass attributes such as biomass, density, and height.

By gathering switchgrass from the different geographic regions in five states, they can glean information on its propagation in various settings. The monitoring of these ecotypes along with research of original Caddo lands will help identify the attributes desirable for the revitalization and expansion of the grass for future use by Native people and for the restoration of Army installation lands.

The students also study the cultural and traditional uses of switchgrass among American Indian tribes in North America. They found that the Caddo people used the grass most. They used the grass to construct grass-thatched lodges and baskets in the southeastern regions of the United States

In fall 2006, the Native Grass Project hopes to build a Caddo grass-thatched arbor on the Haskell campus with the assistance of Phil Cross, a member of the Caddo Tribe and the NGP Advisory Committee.

This biological and cultural research has shown the connection of the switchgrass to Native people and culture. About the research, Phil Cross said, “I think we can gain a sense of ties to the natural things on earth and (of their) importance to our existence, now and in former times. Also, it could possibly be a means of reclaiming lands and improving local environments.”

For information, contact Haskell Indian Nations University faculty: Lorene Williams at or (785) 832-6688 or Bill Welton, at

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