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TREES & plants

Fountain grass

Hardy fountain grass in full flower.

Fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides, is a non-native grass used for its mounded habit and brush-like flower spikes.  There are different species of fountain grass.  Some are hardy in the Chicago region and some are not.  P. alopecuroides is hardy in the Chicago region and is sometimes referred to as hardy fountain grass.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

 

Botanical name: 
Pennisetum alopecuroides
All Common Names: 
Fountain grass, hardy fountain grass
Family (English): 
Grass
Family (Botanic): 
Poaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Grass, 
  • Perennial
Native Locale: 
  • Non-native
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing, 
  • Foundation, 
  • Mixed border, 
  • Patio/sidewalk, 
  • Container
Size Range: 
  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Early winter, 
  • Mid winter, 
  • Late spring, 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer, 
  • Early fall, 
  • Mid fall, 
  • Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Pink, 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Arching, 
  • Mounded
More Information: 

Size and Form

Fountain grass has a mounded, arching habit and grows 2 to 3 feet tall.

Plant Care

Grow in full sun and moist, well-drained soils.  Tolerates some drought.

This is a warm season grass, so its most active growth occurs in summer.  It will remain standing in winter and can act as winter interest, although the seed heads will begin to shatter in autumn.
Since this grass remains attractive through winter, it should not be cut back until early spring, before new growth begins.  At that time, it can be cut down to the ground.

Disease, pests, and problems

No serious problems.
Winter hardiness can be a problem in severe winters.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Asia.

Leaf description

Green leaves are 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide and 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet long.  Foliage will turn yellow in fall and fade to a tan color for winter.

Flower description

Flowering occurs in mid-summer (usually July into August).  The tiny flowers occur in brush-like spikes.  The flowers are wind pollinated.

Fruit description

The small fruit (caryopsis or grains) form along the spikes that held the flowers.

Cultivars and their differences 

Black Flowering Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Moudry'):  Dark purple flowers are almost black and contrast well with the green foliage; yellow to orange fall color.

Foxtrot (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Foxtrot'):  4 feet tall; purplish flowers in spikes.

Hameln (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'):  A dwarf cultivar, growing only 2 feet tall; fine texture.

Little Bunny (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Bunny'):  A dwarf cultivar, growing 1 foot all; fine texture.

Prairie Winds™ 'Desert Plains' (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Desert Plains'):  Improved habit, better flowering and good fall color (red, orange and yellow).

Red Head (Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Red Head'):  3 to 4 feet tall; pinkish-red flowers.

 

 

Pennisetum alopecuroides or Fountain grass