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Sweet Vernal Grass

Anthoxanthum odoratum

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Poaceae (Grass)
Also in this family:
Alpine Catstail, Alpine Foxtail, Alpine Meadow-grass, Annual Beard-grass, Annual Meadow-grass, Arrow Bamboo, Barren Brome Grass, Bearded Couch Grass, Bearded Fescue, Bermuda Grass, Black Bent, Black Grass, Blue Fescue, Blue Moor-grass, Bog Hair-grass, Borrer's Saltmarsh Grass, Bread Wheat, Bristle Bent, Brown Bent, Brown Sedge, Bulbous Foxtail, Bulbous Meadow-grass, California Brome Grass, Canary Grass, Carnation Sedge, Cocksfoot, Cockspur, Common Bent, Common Cord-grass, Common Millet, Common Reed, Common Saltmarsh Grass, Compact Brome Grass, Corn, Couch Grass, Creeping Bent, Creeping Soft-grass, Crested Dog's-tail, Crested Hair-grass, Cultivated Oat, Curved Hard Grass, Cut Grass, Dense Silky Bent, Downy Oat-grass, Drooping Brome Grass, Drooping Tor Grass, Dune Fescue, Early Hair-grass, Early Meadow-grass, Early Sand-grass, False Brome Grass, False Oat-grass, Fern Grass, Fine-leaved Sheep's Fescue, Flattened Meadow-grass, Floating Sweet-grass, Foxtail Barley, French Oat, Giant Fescue, Glaucous Meadow-grass, Great Brome Grass, Greater Quaking Grass, Grey Hair-grass, Hairy Brome Grass, Hairy Finger-grass, Hard Fescue, Hard Grass, Harestail Grass, Heath Grass, Holy Grass, Hybrid Marram Grass, Italian Rye Grass, Knotroot Bristlegrass, Lesser Hairy Brome Grass, Lesser Quaking Grass, Loose Silky Bent, Lyme Grass, Marram Grass, Marsh Foxtail, Mat Grass, Mat-grass Fescue, Meadow Barley, Meadow Fescue, Meadow Foxtail, Meadow Oat-grass, Mountain Melick, Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass, Narrow-leaved Small-reed, Neglected Couch Grass, Nit Grass, Orange Foxtail, Pampas Grass, Perennial Rye Grass, Plicate Sweet-grass, Purple Moor-grass, Purple Small-reed, Purple-stem Catstail, Quaking Grass, Ratstail Fescue, Red Fescue, Reed Canary Grass, Reed Sweet-grass, Reflexed Saltmarsh Grass, Rescue Grass, Rough Meadow-grass, Rush-leaved Fescue, Sand Catstail, Sand Couch Grass, Scandinavian Small-reed, Scottish Small-reed, Sea Barley, Sea Couch Grass, Sea Fern Grass, Sheep's Fescue, Silver Hair-grass, Six-rowed Barley, Slender Brome Grass, Small Cord-grass, Small Sweet-grass, Smaller Catstail, Smooth Brome Grass, Smooth Cord-grass, Smooth Finger-grass, Smooth Meadow-grass, Soft Brome Grass, Somerset Hair-grass, Sorghum, Spreading Meadow-grass, Squirreltail Fescue, Stiff Brome Grass, Stiff Saltmarsh Grass, Tall Fescue, Timothy Grass, Tor Grass, Tufted Hair-grass, Two-rowed Barley, Upright Brome Grass, Velvet Bent, Viviparous Fescue, Wall Barley, Wavy Hair-grass, Wavy Meadow-grass, Whorl Grass, Wild Oat, Wood Barley, Wood Fescue, Wood Meadow-grass, Wood Melick, Wood Millet, Yellow Oat-grass, Yorkshire Fog
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Fields, grassland, heathland, lawns, meadows, moorland, roadsides, wasteland, woodland.

Green, no petals
Yellowish-green spikelet with a bent awn.
A single-seeded dry fruit (caryopsis).
Flat but pointed leaf blades, forming in loose clumps.
Sweet Vermal Grass contains 'coumarins' which makes it smell of freshly mown hay when dried out.
Other Names:
Buffalo Grass, Holy Grass, Large Sweet Vernal Grass, Spring Grass, Sweet Grass, Sweet-scented Vernal Grass, Vanilla Grass.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Anthoxanthum odoratum, also known as sweet vernal grass or vanilla grass, is a species of grass native to Europe and Asia. It is a cool-season perennial grass that can grow up to 0.6 meter tall, it has fine, hair-like leaves and small, inconspicuous spikes of flowers. It is identified by its sweet, vanilla-like fragrance.

It is commonly found in a variety of habitats, such as meadows, pastures, and along roadsides. It is also a common lawn grass and is often used in turf mixtures. It can be used as a ornamental grass in gardens, its attractive fine leaves and fragrant flowers can add an attractive feature. It is generally low maintenance, hardy and easy to grow, it can be propagated by seed or division and it is tolerant of most soil types. It is also an important food source for grazing animals and provides a valuable nectar source for pollinators. It is considered a minor weed in some agricultural systems, but it can be well controlled.


Sweet vernal grass, scientifically known as Anthoxanthum odoratum, is a perennial grass species that is native to Europe and widely distributed throughout the temperate regions of the world. It is a member of the Poaceae family, which includes many of the world's most important food crops, such as rice, wheat, and corn.

Sweet vernal grass is a small to medium-sized grass that typically grows to a height of about 60cm. It has a distinctive sweet fragrance, especially when it is crushed or cut, which is due to the presence of the chemical coumarin. This aroma has made sweet vernal grass a popular choice for use in potpourri and as a natural air freshener.

In addition to its sweet fragrance, sweet vernal grass has a number of other interesting characteristics. It is an early blooming grass, producing its flowers in late spring or early summer. The flowers are small and inconspicuous, but they produce copious amounts of pollen, which can be a problem for people who suffer from hay fever.

Sweet vernal grass is also known for its ability to fix nitrogen, which means it can take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that can be used by plants. This makes sweet vernal grass an important component of many natural ecosystems, as it can help to enrich the soil and support the growth of other plants.

Despite its many positive attributes, sweet vernal grass can also be a problematic weed in certain situations. It can be invasive in some areas, spreading quickly and outcompeting other plant species. It can also be difficult to control, as it has a deep root system and can regenerate from its roots even after being cut or pulled.

Sweet vernal grass is also used in agriculture, particularly as a forage crop for livestock. It is high in protein and palatable, making it a good source of nutrition for grazing animals. It is also used as a hay crop, either alone or in a mixture with other grasses and legumes.

In addition to its agricultural uses, sweet vernal grass has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. The plant has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, respiratory infections, and skin disorders. Some research has even suggested that sweet vernal grass may have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Sweet vernal grass is also a popular ornamental plant, with its sweet fragrance and early blooming making it a popular choice for gardens and landscaping. It can be grown in a variety of soil types and is relatively easy to care for, making it a good choice for beginner gardeners.

Sweet vernal grass is also important for wildlife, as it provides habitat and food for a variety of animals. The dense growth of sweet vernal grass provides cover for small animals, such as rodents and birds, while the seeds and leaves are consumed by a variety of wildlife, including deer, rabbits, and birds.

One interesting fact about sweet vernal grass is that it has been used to create a natural insect repellent. The plant's coumarin content, which gives it its sweet fragrance, has been shown to repel a variety of insects, including mosquitoes and ticks. This has led to the development of natural insect repellent products that use sweet vernal grass as a key ingredient.

However, it is important to note that coumarin can also have negative effects on some individuals. In rare cases, exposure to coumarin can cause skin irritation, allergic reactions, or liver damage. Therefore, it is important to use caution when using products that contain sweet vernal grass, and to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Sweet vernal grass has also been studied for its potential as a biofuel crop. The plant's high cellulose and hemicellulose content make it a promising source of biomass for the production of biofuels, such as ethanol and butanol. Its ability to grow in a variety of soil types and under a wide range of environmental conditions also make it an attractive option for biofuel production.

Additionally, sweet vernal grass has been found to have allelopathic properties, meaning that it can release chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants. While this can be beneficial in some situations, such as when trying to control weeds, it can also have negative effects on native plant species. Therefore, it is important to use sweet vernal grass responsibly and in a way that does not harm other plants or ecosystems.

Overall, sweet vernal grass is a versatile and valuable plant species with a wide range of benefits. Its sweet fragrance, agricultural uses, medicinal properties, ornamental value, and potential for biofuel production make it an important plant species for both humans and ecosystems. However, it is important to be aware of its potential for invasiveness and to use it responsibly, in order to protect the health of ecosystems and individuals.

30 Facts About Sweet Vernal Grass

  1. Scientific Name: Sweet Vernal Grass is scientifically known as Anthoxanthum odoratum.

  2. Appearance: It is a perennial grass that typically grows to a height of 20 to 80 cm.

  3. Habitat: Sweet Vernal Grass is native to Europe and is commonly found in grasslands, meadows, and open woodlands.

  4. Aroma: The grass gets its name from the sweet, vanilla-like scent it emits, especially when crushed or bruised.

  5. Season: It is a cool-season grass that thrives in spring and early summer.

  6. Flowering: Sweet Vernal Grass produces tiny, greenish-yellow flowers in spikelets.

  7. Leaves: The grass has flat, narrow leaves with a distinctive keel on the upper surface.

  8. Rhizomes: It can spread through short rhizomes, helping it colonize and form dense stands.

  9. Grazing Value: Sweet Vernal Grass is a nutritious forage for livestock, particularly in its early growth stages.

  10. Hay Production: It is often used in the production of high-quality hay due to its sweet aroma and palatability.

  11. Wildlife Attraction: The grass provides habitat and food for various wildlife species, including insects and small mammals.

  12. Soil Preference: It prefers well-drained, loamy soils but can tolerate a wide range of soil types.

  13. Cool-Season Grass: Sweet Vernal Grass is more productive during cool, moist conditions and can go dormant during hot, dry spells.

  14. Seed Production: The grass produces seeds in small, loose panicles.

  15. Germination: Seeds of Sweet Vernal Grass typically require cold stratification for successful germination.

  16. Drought Tolerance: It exhibits some tolerance to drought but performs better with adequate moisture.

  17. Invasive Potential: In some regions, Sweet Vernal Grass can become invasive and outcompete native grass species.

  18. Ecological Importance: It plays a role in stabilizing soils and preventing erosion.

  19. Cultural Uses: Sweet Vernal Grass has been used in some cultures for traditional medicinal purposes.

  20. Aromatic Oils: The grass contains aromatic oils, which contribute to its sweet scent.

  21. Historical Uses: In the past, the grass was used to make fragrant sachets and strewing herbs to freshen rooms.

  22. Perennial Lifespan: Sweet Vernal Grass is a long-lived perennial, persisting for many years if conditions are favorable.

  23. Beneficial Microbes: It can form symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, benefiting soil health.

  24. Pollen Allergen: Some individuals may be allergic to Sweet Vernal Grass pollen, which can cause hay fever.

  25. Conservation: In some regions, it is considered an important component of semi-natural grasslands and is protected for conservation purposes.

  26. Adaptability: Sweet Vernal Grass is adaptable to different mowing regimes and can thrive under various management practices.

  27. Culinary Uses: While not commonly used for culinary purposes, some cultures have historically used it in herbal teas.

  28. Seed Dispersal: The grass can spread through wind dispersal of its seeds.

  29. Recolonization: It can quickly recolonize disturbed areas due to its rhizomatous growth.

  30. Environmental Indicator: The presence of Sweet Vernal Grass in a habitat can indicate certain soil conditions and management practices.


Sweet Vernal Grass filmed at the following locations:
  • Adlington, Lancashire: 5th May 2023
  • Chorley, Lancashire: 21st July 2023

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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