Focus on Natives: Muhly Grass

If you’re a fan of ornamental grasses, Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris syn. M. filipes) is one you simply must have. A foolproof

If you’re a fan of ornamental grasses, Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris syn. M. filipes) is one you simply must have. A foolproof southeastern native, Muhly Grass is green and full most of the year,  growing to about 3 feet by 3 feet. In October the purple plumes rise above the body of the grass, putting on a show that’s unequaled among ornamental grasses. By late in the year, the feathery purple fronds fade to a soft light brown as the seeds ripen and are released.

This is a very overlooked native that should be more readily available outside native plant nurseries in zones 7 – 10. It’s drought-tolerant and happy in full sun or part shade, and is even salt-tolerant for beach plantings.  Nurseries are more likely to offer non-native fountain grass species (Pennisetum) instead, some of which are beginning to appear on the invasive plant lists. Yet Muhly Grass is and always has been important to people in the South. If you’ve been to South Carolina and seen the beautifully and intricately woven Sweetgrass baskets for sale, you’ve seen Muhly grass in one of its finest traditions.

Muhly Grass is also wonderful for wildlife. Planted in groupings, it creates shelter for small creatures including butterflies, who like to hang from grasses in a rainstorm or at night for protection. Songbirds love the seeds produced in the fall, and may even pluck dead stems to use in building their nests.

I’ve used Muhly Grass extensively in my own yard, and find it needs very little maintenance. Once a year, I spring-cut the grasses to about a foot about the ground, and they quickly reward me with new growth. Do you grow and love Muhly Grass? Tell us about it in the comments! (Looking for other ornamental grass ideas? Check out this list from BirdsandBlooms.com.)

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.