Ornamental Grasses

The appeal of ornamental grasses is two-fold: they can be grown for their decorative effect either as foliage and flower in the garden or for winter decoration after they have been dried.

The wild species and even the cultivated cereals are ornamental; barley is frequently used for flower decoration and can be bleached and dried, while oats and wheat can also be used.

The popularity of both fresh and dried grasses has increased considerably during recent years as their grace and beauty have become more widely recognized.


A selection of perennial grasses can be found in some of the hardy plant lists, and a fair range of annuals is offered in seed lists which specialize in the less common plants.

Most of the ornamental grasses are sown in late April, because the soil would be too cold any earlier in the year. There are, however, a few of the more hardy species that produce stronger and larger plants if they are sown in the autumn.

All the plants must have ample room to develop, and it is therefore essential that the seedlings are well thinned out. Insufficient thinning is a great fault in cultivation.

If the grasses have been grown for drying, cut them before they reach maturity. Most grasses are best dried under cool, airy conditions and not in the full glare of the sun, which tends to make them brittle.

When dry, put them in bunches in vases, and keep them where mice cannot reach them.


The following list of ornamental grasses contains both those grown for garden decoration and those grown for cutting and drying. Some grasses can be used for both purposes.


This genus provides some of the most beautiful grasses, with feathery, graceful flower spikes. Many species are used for fine lawns.

Agrostis nebulosa (cloud grass), from Spain, 1-½ ft., one of the most graceful annual grasses. A. pulchella, similar to A. nebulosa but not so tall.


Aira capillaris (syn. A. elegans) (hair grass), from southern Europe, 1 ft., light and graceful with loose panicles of small flowers. Frequently grown specifically for drying for winter bouquets.


Apera spica-venli (wind grass), from Europe and Siberia, 2 to 3 ft., large panicles of small green or purple awns, is now common as a weed, particularly amongst corn. Usually dried for winter decoration.


These bamboos are evergreen and range-in height from 3 to 20 ft., and prefer a moist but not wet soil. Once establishe’ they will often spread very rapidly and must either be planted where this does not matter or kept within bounds by pruning with a spade every year. Plant in April and May.

Arundinaria nitida (syn. Sinarundinaria nitida), from China, 10 ft., delicately beautiful with slender purplish stems and smal1 leaves. Fairly compact in habit.

A. simoni, 15 to 20 ft.

A. vagans, 3 ft.


Arundo conspicua, from New Zealand, 6 to 8 ft., a tufted, perennial grass with long,   curved foliage,   not   unlike   the

Pampas grass in habit and flower although it flowers earlier. Except in mild areas needs winter protection.

A. donax, from southern Europe, 10 to 12 ft. if conditions are favourable, not too hardy a perennial.

A.d. Variegata, 10 to 12 ft., one of the most beautiful of all grasses, with leaves striped with creamy-white, is ideal for a conservatory or cool house where there is sufficient space. Only successfully wintered in a warm, secluded corner.


Avena saliva, 2 ft., the botanical name for the oat, one of the most important cereals. A. sterilis (animated oat), from the Mediterranean region, 2 ft. The lawns are very susceptible to climatic changes which cause the seed to move.


These have large, flat, heart-shaped flowers on slender stalks which swing gracefully in the wind.

Briza maxima, from the Mediterranean region and the Canary Isles, 12 in. or more. Treat as a half-hardy annual and sow in the open from late April onward.

B. media, 8 or 9 in., a native, perennial grass with a smaller head than B. maxima.

B. minor or B. gracilis, from western Europe and the Mediterranean region, 12 in., an annual.


These grasses are numerous, but only two or three are cultivated. They are graceful, brownish, and grow to approximately 1-½ to 2 ft.

Bronuis briziformis, from the Caucasus, an annual and, together with B.japonicus, is the most commonly grown.

B. japcmicus, from central Europe, a biennial.

B. madritensis, a native annual, tufted and decorative.


Coix lacryma-jobi (Job’s tears), from the East Indies, 1 ft. (much taller if grown under glass), a perennial but not hardy. It must be grown either under glass or raised in heat and planted out in May. In sub-tropical climates it is cultivated for its bone-hard, pearly-grey seeds which are used for decoration.


The tall, handsome plumes of the pampas grass of temperate South America are very common in all localities. This has been described as “the grandest ornamental plant yet discovered”.

Cortaderia argentea, 9 to 10 ft., silver plumes, is best suited to planting as an isolated specimen, preferably in a lawn, to show off its full shape and beauty. For decorative work the plumes must be cut while still young, or they tend to fluff out.

C.a. Carminea rendalkri, 3 to 4 ft., a rosy-pink form suitable for the small garden.

C.a. Pumila, 3 to 4 ft., suitable for the small garden.


Elymus arenarius (lyme grass), from Europe and Asia, 3 ft. when in flower, a strong-growing, glaucous-leaved perennial. A valuable maritime plant, it is too vigorous and spreading for a small garden, and is used for binding and fixing sand dunes.


This is a large genus, and several species with light, graceful flowers are generally dried for winter decoration.

Eragrostis interrupta (syn. E. elegans) (love grass), from Brazil, 1 ft., purple in colour, and the best known of the species.


Erianlhus ravennae (woolly beard grass), from southern Europe, 4 ft., a long-lived perennial, and a smaller version of the pampas grass. Its plumes are dried for winter decoration.


Festuca ovina glauca, from cool parts of the world, 6 in., a striking plant with blue-grey, needle-like foliage. It is grown mainly for decoration.

F. punctoria, from Greece, about 1 ft., an uncommon species, has stiff grey foliage like the quills of a porcupine. The flowers are also stiff and erect.

F. rubra, from cool parts of the world, 1-½ ft., was much used in the days when ribbon borders were popular, and though fairly uncommon is still grown.


Lagurus ovalus (hare’s tail grass), from southern Europe, 1 ft., an annual which has a soft, white, egg-shaped head not unlike a rabbit’s or hare’s tail. Grows best in a warm place.


Lamarckia aurea, from the Mediterranean region, 9 in., an annual with a one-sided panicle of golden flowers.


Lamarckia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Mibora minima, from southern Europe and north-west Africa, l to 2 in., an annual, is the only grass which is small enough to use in a rock garden. It has fine, hair-like foliage and slender, graceful flower heads. Sometimes used to follow dwarf bulbs.


Panicum capillare, from northern hemisphere, 1-1/2 ft., a strong-growing annual with broad foliage and clouds of tiny flowers, which are usually purple. Once sown it will invariably self-sow and perpetuate itself.


Pennisetum villosum (syn. P. longistylum), from Abyssinia, 2 ft., twisted, plume-like flowers which are about 4 in. long and usually purple.


Stipa arundinacea (syn. ‘Apera arundinacea’), from New Zealand, 4 ft., a grass with large panicles of purple-brown awns.

S. calamagrostis, from southern Europe, 4 ft., a hardy perennial which dries well for winter use.

S. gigantea, from Spain, 3 ft., can be very striking either in the garden or dried for indoor decoration.

S. pennata (feather grass), from Europe and Siberia, 2 ft., has an inflorescence which is completely covered with fine, silky hairs.

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26. January 2013 by admin
Categories: Grasses, Plants | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Ornamental Grasses


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