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The most well known of the Pennisetums, Pennisetum s. ‘Rubrum’, commonly called Purple Fountain Grass, is the showiest of the genus, though all species are quite ornamental in form, texture, and coloring.
They are especially effective in mass plantings or drifts, or as a focal point in decorative containers. Not showing much growth until late spring, they are fine companions for early spring bulbs, filling in and covering the fading foliage of narcissus, crocus, and tulips. They also harmonize well with perennials and shrubs with contrasting leaf texture and flower color such as Rudbeckia, Sedum, Eryngium, Berberis, as well as most conifers and herbs.
The flower racemes of Pennisetums resemble foxtails, range in color from cream to deep purple, and are excellent for use in fresh or dried arrangements. Bloom time typically lasts June through September.
Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Cassian’: Zone 5-9, 1.5-2’ wide by 4-5’ tall. Clump forming, upright, perennial grass. Foliage turns rich gold with red tints in September. Flowers are dusky brown.
Pennisetum a. ‘Hameln’
Zone 6-10, 2’ tall
Slightly shorter than the species with creamy white flowers and leaves turning gold in the fall.
Pennisetum a. ‘Little Bunny’:
Zone 6-10, 18” tall
A miniature with buff flowers into fall.
Pennisetum a. ‘Moudry’
Zone 6-10, 2’ tall
A dwarf cultivar with purple to black flower heads. Prolifically reseeds if allowed to do so.
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
Purple Fountain Grass:
Zone 9-10, 2-3’ wide by 3-5’ tall
A clumping grass native to the tropics grown as an annual in temperate climes. Can not survive temperatures below 40 degrees F! All parts a rich red-burgundy color. Fast grower in full sun with ample water, blooming late summer to frost. Typically available spring and summer. Additional cultivars include ‘Burgundy Giant’, ‘Fireworks’, and ‘Little Red Ridinghood’.
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Common Name: Fountain Grass
Origin: Ranging throughout the tropics and warm temperate regions, Pennisetums are native to both open and woodland habitats of Eurasia, Africa, Arabia, and Australasia. The genus contains about 80 distinct species.
Culture: Easily grown in full or partial sun in most any soil type. Best with regular moisture, though many species can be drought tolerant once established.
Maintenance: Pennisetums are robust growers that need division every few years anyway so there is no need to fertilize them. Propagate species from seed and hybrids by division in spring.
Dead foliage creates structural interest in winter, though it may be removed for a tidier appearance. However, all foliage should be cut back hard by early February to make way for new growth.
Pests and Diseases: None in particular.