Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What's Blooming - Fall 2012 Edition - Ornamental Grasses

Pink Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris
Last week, before being distracted by the spider, I took pictures of what was blooming in the Demonstration Gardens.

As Garden Professor Holly Scoggins of Virginia Tech noted recently, the ornamental grasses really shine this time of year.

Pink Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris
 First up, Muhly Grass, or Muhlenbergia capillaris in the Woodland Meadow Native Habitat Garden (AKA Wildlife Area Demonstration Garden).

According to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center  (There's a link on the sidebar to the right):  
The genus of this plant is named for Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg (1753-1815), also Heinrich Ludwig Muehlenberg, or Henry Muhlenberg, who was a German-educated Lutheran minister and the first president of Franklin College, now Franklin and Marshall College, Pennsylvania. He is most famous due to his work in the field of botany. An accomplished botanist, chemist, and minerologist, Henry is credited with classifying and naming 150 species of plants in his 1785 work Index Flora Lancastriensis. Muhlenbergs work and collaboration with European botanists led to great advances in the study of plants and earned him the distinction as Americas first outstanding botanist.
A rather appropriate selection for a Demonstration Garden in Franklin County, wouldn't you say?

Panicum virgatum 'Cheyenne Sky'

Another native, warm season grass, Panicum virgatum 'Cheyenne Sky' is featured in the Drought Tolerant Demonstration Garden.
Seed plumes often persist throughout winter, providing visual interest as well as food for birds. Species plants (Panicum virgatum) were an important component of the tallgrass prairie that once covered much of central North America.
The Drought Tolerant Garden is also home to another ornamental grass, whose common name piqued my professional interest, Mosquito Grass, or Bouteloua gracilisThis cultivar is named 'Blonde Ambition.'

Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'
Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'

Also called "Blue Grama Grass".

The 'mosquito' part comes from the seed heads, which are purported to resemble mosquito larvae.

Decide for yourself.

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'

Another specimen from the Drought Tolerant Garden is Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'.

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'

Also known simply as "Blue Fescue".  This was chosen Perennial of the Month for November 1998 by Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont.

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'

Here are some older specimens from the Pollinator Friendly Garden.  The ones from the Drought Tolerant Garden above were just planted this spring. 

Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'
Finally, two unlabeled grasses doing sentry duty for the Pollinator Friendly Garden

Feather reed Grass - Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
I didn't have much luck identifying them, so if anyone out can help out, let us know. [Done. See update below -ed.]

Here are some individual shots.

Feather reed Grass - Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

Feather reed Grass - Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

Update: 9:10 pm 10/17/12 - Laurie Collins just emailed me with the ID - it's Feather Reed Grass Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'.  I updated the pictures with the proper caption.  It was named perennial plant of the year in 2001 by the Perennial Plant Association, and perennial of the month in February 2002 by Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont.

‘Karl Foerster’ grows to about 18 inches wide and only about 2 to 3 feet tall, but when the flower stems are at their peak they stand nearly 5 feet tall, fluttering like butterflies in the breeze. It tolerates full sun to partial shade and any type of soil except a bog. ‘Karl Foerster’ is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9, but south of Zone 7 it’s not at its best. This cool-season grass remains evergreen (actually, ever-bronze) in mild winters and works well as a screen, as a specimen, and as a container plant with other perennials or annuals. It’s sufficiently cold-hardy to overwinter in a pot in most areas.
I really like working with such a knowledgeable group.  Cheers!


  1. I recently visited the city of Halmstad over here in Sweden and they had some of the most colourful Bunch Grasses I have seen. They were bright bright beautiful green with long and very tall seed heads where were an deep yellow orange colour. The contrast was incredible. And every time I see something like this I never seem to have my camera. *sigh*


  2. Hi Kevin - Thanks for commenting. I can't tell you how cool it is that we have a reader from Sweden.

    I'm so impressed with some of the color and structure available for fall gardening, that I was so unaware of. Here's MG Kathy Engle's series from 2010 on Colorful Fall Gardening:
    Colorful Fall Gardening Part 1

    Colorful Fall Gardening Part 2

    Colorful Fall Gardening Part 3

    Colorful Fall Gardening Part 4