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Muhly Grass Steals Field Day Attention
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Muhly grass stole the show at the annual Fall Field Day at the Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs. Honestly, I think I could have sold several hundred containers of this beautiful ornamental grass.
Since the field day, I have continued to receive calls about the beautiful ornamental grass with the cotton candy-like blooms that were a deep rose color.
Muhly grass impressed my horticultural counterparts as well. The name comes from Muhlenbergia.
All the muhly grass questions drove me to my first reference choice, The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening. Four volumes of 800 pages each, and with a huge price tag, but no hint of muhly. Not even a clue that maybe the name had been changed.
Next, I consulted Hortus Third, with its 1,289 pages of tiny print. Nothing. Nada. No glimpse into what Muhlenbergia might really be.
When we run into these obstacles, there is a tendency to think that some taxonomist extremist group has changed the name and then the paper trail disappears. So I went to my oldest reference the Manual of Cultivated Plants by Liberty Hyde Bailey, and I met with the same answer. Not here.
Until someone sheds more light on this, here is the skinny. The name is Muhlenbergia capillaris, and it is native to Mississippi, the southeast and Mexico. The family formerly known as Poaceae is now Gramineae, or grass family, which is believed to have 635 genera and 9,000 species. Muhlenbergia has not received much print, hence it is little known.
It is a gorgeous clumping grass produced in Mississippi. Muhly will likely be much sought after and is hardy throughout our state.
Plant in the perennial border or as an entry accent from 1-gallon containers. We cut ours back in February to get a renewal of fresh green growth. The flowers were about 2.5 to 3 feet tall and as wide. Even when not in bloom, the clumping, bamboo-looking foliage has a place in the garden. You may have to ask your nursery for a special order.
Other grasses that caught the eyes of the thousands of visitors to this year's event was the maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis, which is native to Eastern Asia. It was amazing to see how it matured in just its second year. Our selection grew to about six feet and had gorgeous flowers.
Zebra grass is another form of maiden grass that everyone needs to use in the border. We do not have it at our experiment station yet, but we will. This is another clumping grass that has creamy yellow bands across the width of the leaves. The foliage is great in arrangements as are the flowers.
Pampas grass has always been one you either love or hate. The dwarf Pampas grass at the field day was opening up eyes with its shorter foliage but plumes every bit as gorgeous as its fuller- size relative.
Many other grasses are just as great, like the fountain grasses and lemon grass. Ornamental grasses can turn a mundane perennial border or landscape into a work of art. I tell gardeners almost weekly that if they plant ornamental grass, stick a zinnia or black-eyed Susan next to it. Their neighbors will think they went to landscape design school during the winter and come asking for suggestions.