Foliage Friday: Muhly Grass

When I was at Gamble Gardens the other day, this pink plume caught my eye:

It’s cloud-like etherealness is just so striking. What is it?


It’s Muhly Grass! (aka Muhlenbergia capillaris)

This ornamental grass gets its name from self-taught botanist Gotthilf Henry Ernest Muhlenberg. Muhly grass is native to Florida, which I find interesting, since this plant reportedly prefers arid climates, and I usually associate Florida with humid climates, not arid climates. It likes well-draining, not boggy, soil. It is drought tolerant, and hardy in zones 7-11, so that makes it a perennial here in Palo Alto.

The pink flowers appear in late summer/fall and fade to tan seed heads in the winter. In spring and summer, the plant simply has green leaves (like long blades of grass, I suppose).

I actually don’t know very much about ornamental grasses. I didn’t really pay much attention to them until moving here. People in California seem to use them in their landscaping much more than in other places I’ve lived. There are so many different types of grasses (or grass-like plants, such as sedges or rushes). Here’s an oft-quoted poem in the botany world to help you remember the difference between grasses and grass-like plants:

Sedges have edges,

Rushes are round,

Grasses have nodes from the top to the ground.

Grasses are in the same family as bamboo: Poaceae (formerly Gramineae). They have nodes from the top to the ground. I think it’s easier to imagine the nodes on a bamboo plant. Wikipedia provides a good visual:

See the nodes all along the stem (or culm) of the plant? The nodes go from the top to the ground (or the ground to the top, but that doesn’t rhyme).

Besides ornamental grasses, like Muhly grass, there are many other types of grasses. Lawns, obviously, are grass, and can be made up of many different types of grasses, but a popular one is Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis). Other grasses in the Poaceae famly include wheat, rice, millet, oats, barley, sugarcane…..

I could go on, but I think that’s enough for today’s botany lesson. I’ll learn about sedges and rushes another day.

One thought on “Foliage Friday: Muhly Grass”

  1. I wish I could grow Muhly grass, but we are zone 5, alas. I grow several others and find them a great addition to the garden.
    I don’t usually like topiary, but the rabbit in the first photo is fabulous!

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