Pennisetum / Fountain Grass

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Add exquisite forms and graceful movements to the landscape

The genus Pennisetum contains herbaceous, clump-forming, annual, and perennial grasses, commonly called fountain grass. The exquisite forms and graceful movements of these ornamental grasses create an air of casual elegance in the landscape. Whether upright or arching, tall or small, fountain grasses are incredibly charming. Their sprays of linear leaves are mostly willowy and finely textured, but they can also be strappy and coarse. Long blooming, the plants set attractive bottlebrush-like flower plumes, ranging from short, dense, and stiff to long, supple, and feathery. Both foliage and flowers come in an array of beautiful colors, with some species offering fall color and/or winter interest. The plumes make lovely additions to cut arrangements, fresh or dried.

Pennisetum is a genus of about 80 species native to tropical and subtropical regions. Some species used in home gardens include P. alopecuroides (hardy fountain grass); P. glaucum (ornamental millet, pearl millet, cattail); P. massaicum (red bunny tails fountain grass); P. orientale (oriental fountain grass, Chinese fountain grass); P. setaceum (purple fountain grass, red fountain grass); P. spathiolatum (slender veldt grass); and P. villosum (feathertop grass).

Fountain grasses are warm season grasses, easily grown in sunny, hot, and humid locations. But in colder growing zones, outside their normal growing range, they can be grown as annuals. Fountain grasses prefer evenly moist, well-draining soils, and some varieties are drought tolerant once established. Many make wonderful container plants. In the garden, use fountain grass as a specimen or group in beds and borders or mass along hardscapes as edging. Place carefully as some grasses self-seed and some spread by rhizomes. Wherever they’re placed, these grasses have a lovely, softening effect.

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