About Miscanthus

Miscanthus Purpurascens

Last year I wrote a post about Pennisetum and apparently people liked it. Now there is a friend of us who confessed me he has finally bought a grass, a miscanthus for instance, about a year ago because of my (bad) influence on him but after that he kept this grass in the pot, in constant pilgrimage, because he doesn’t know what to do with it. I hope he will make up his mind with this post and plant that poor miscanthus!

Clockwise from top left: m. Cabaret, m. Zebrinus and a very late flowerer seedling

When you read a book about grasses (my personal Bible is The Encyclopedia of Grasses for livable landscapes by Rick Darke) you soon learn that the great part of miscanthus species are native to eastern and southeastern Asia and that the genus name derives from the Greek mischos, stalk, and anthos, flower, referring to the stalked spikelets and that in Japan they call this grass susuki and they use it to make roofs for traditional houses. I only use miscanthus in my garden (if I had known this roof thingy a few years ago I could have saved a lot of money!) so if you want to learn more about roofs get the book or ask a japanese.

Miscanthus represent the starter kit for grass newbies: it is easy to grow, disease resistant, it is clump forming and increases quickly enough to make the gardener happy but not worried. In fact this plant doesn’t spread like bamboos and it self seeds very discretely, even though some people in America doesn’t grow it because they are worried it could spread and take over their natives. I think they have bigger problems than miscanthus seedlings: like hurricanes for instance, or Martha Stewart; but I guess they are free to choose.

This ornamental grass is a bold presence in my garden almost all year round. Barely visible in spring, it fulfills summer borders and start flowering from mid summer until late fall, depending on the cultivar. Flowers look like a bunch of ropes held up by a strong but flexible stalk. Soon the flowers become seeds and the ‘ropes’ explode and curl and spiral in a fluffy, pearl white cotton candy. Seed heads are real light catchers and stay in place for almost the whole cold season.

Clockwise from left: the late flowerer seedling seen before, a group of tall miscanthus Cabaret and Cosmo Revert and m. x giganteus, m. Ferne Osten in the centre of the grass garden

I grow successfully some different species and cultivars of miscanthus in my garden, all of them like a sunny or semi shaded position, they tolerate drought but like better moist soil. I guess drought enhances their strength and fall colour though. I grow them in different parts and conditions in my garden and they always thrive. I use standard soil and put some gravel for drainage when I plant. The only cultivars I had issues are Graziella, Gracillimus and the variegated Morning Light all of them have in common a very fine foliage and a compact rounded habit but they haven’t prove any hardiness in winter nor drought tolerance in summer.

The focal point of this bed are two very large and tall miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus Cabaret and Cosmo Revert

My personal choices:

Miscanthus transmorrisoniensis forms a rather short round and large clump of bright green leaves, it is only at the end of summer that this plant send up tall stems with big fluffy and nodding spikelets, held high above the foliage. I love this one because it is very discrete during the growing season just to amaze me with its big seed heads.It isn’t very tall but the low foliage makes it look taller.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ is a tall variegated late flowerer cultivar. It has two distinctive things: it is yellow striped while normally variegated form are white and bands are horizontal to the leaf which makes the overall look very interesting, as if hit by the sun even when it’s not sunny. A rather tall grass.

Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cabaret’ is a tall broad leaved variegated form. I’m not into variegated plant normally but I couldn’t imagine a garden without this plant. In fact I have two in different places of the garden. Similar to ‘Cosmopolitan’ but the pattern of the variegation is reversed. Very tall plant, it reaches 2,5mt.

Miscanthus Purpurascens, yes, again.

Miscanthus sinensis var. condensatus ‘Cosmo Revert’ I bought this one as a ‘Cosmopolitan’ because I wanted to see this reversed pattern (I’m pretty spoiled and posh, I know). You should know that Cosmopolitan spends a lot of time staring his reversed pattern until he feels drunk (the famous cocktail name comes from this miscanthus indeed), so drunk he forget who he is and then start producing standard green leaves. This happens so often that the mutation gained a cultivar name itself. Cosmo Revert is a big block, about 3mt tall.

Miscanthus x giganteus is another tall one. To be honest its only peculiarity is the height. It could be taller than 3,5mt. This species is also grown in agriculture to produce natural fuel.

Rosa Bloomfield Abundance and m. purpurascens

Miscanthus purpurascens in my opinion this is the iconic form of miscanthus. Beautiful and very durable seed heads and interesting fall foliage colours. One of the best.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gnome’ is the smallest miscanthus I grow. Normally I am not very fond of dwarfed plants but this one really looks good and in proportion. I have two of them, one of which is planted under a birch and doesn’t grow as much as the other one that has more space and good soil around.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferne Osten’ is medium sized and has nothing really peculiar to me except it is a very early flowerer. I keep a little group of them in the central bed of the grass garden, I needed a cultivar not taller than 130-150 cm that flowers early (it starts from late july) and this one was perfect. Early flowerer means that the seed heads remain under september rain and get spoiled before fall.

Clockwise from top left: m.s. ‘Gnome’ (this is the unlucky one), m. x giganteus (only 3 mt tall because I keep it in a very dry spot) and m.s. Ferne Osten

I hope I brought the grass family a little closer to you and I hope that someone I know will put that pot into ground soon with no regrets.

Now I know that what follows is absolutely not relevant with grasses but according to this blog’s rules, and being the boss here, I can change matter whenever I want.

This morning, while I was wandering around the garden taking pictures, Tigre kept following me everywhere and insistently rubbing my legs for cuddles or food or maybe both. She normally is a wild thing, killing every moving and breathing thingy in the garden and seeing her asking for cuddles is almost weird.

Tigre pointing her nose to the camera in that kitten way while I was taking a snap of rosa Rote Hannover fall foliage, Tigre posing on the white bench and the shadows of me kneeling on a rose with Tigre sharpening her nails on my back…

Following me must have really tired her so she finally went for a nap in her new little kitten house. But after a while…


26 thoughts on “About Miscanthus

    • Berluwhooo? 🙂 please send us a little Obama!
      I love panicums too but to be honest they are all like my children and I make no preference. I might write a post about panicums too as I have some…

  1. Great, great post Alberto, I will re-read this again and again, as you know Miscanthus are probably my favourite of all grasses. You have so many cutivars, I am seriously envious. I don’t have the same problems as you with Graziella, Gracillimus and the variegated Morning Light. I actually think ‘Morning Light’ is the very best Miscanthus of all; this may be due to the differences in our soil and climate. Christina

    • I’m glad you liked it so much, Christina! Here I brought my personal experience, I didn’t mean to take the fame away from graziella & co.! I guess they have some kind of parentage though, because they look very similar. Maybe your better drained soil made the difference?

  2. Miscanthus is a wonderful grass, it must be because it is one of the few grasses that likes my heavy soil! My favourite here is Malepartus, grows 2m tall and has the most fantastic purple flowers!! Have you ever tried nepalensis, small with flowers that are like spun gold, unfortunately not hardy here, I grew it once but lost it over the winter, should have put it in a pot to come in for the winter. Your garden is looking wonderful with all your seedheads, I’m sure Tigre enjoys prowling amongst them.

    • Thank you Pauline! Actually I never found m. Nepalensis in nurseries here but it should be very interesting! My book says they are now selling more hardy selections than before and they proved to be hardy in southern England indeed. There are one pictured in Beth Chatto’s garden. Anyway I stopped playing games with hardiness in my garden, you can experiment with a small garden but when you got bigger you can’t really bother on fussy plants that don’t thrive!

  3. Great information about all these grasses. I don’t grow any, but I think I will if I ever gain enough information about them to feel comfortable introducing them into my garden. LOVE the picture of the cat on your back – what a shot! And the one of her with her mouth open, too. I hope you fed her! ;0

    • I feed that cat like 5 times a day. Normally it is the only relationship we have… The snap of her with the mouth open is the funniest to me! I’ll write another post about my beloved grasses, I hope you could feel like giving a try after that. They’d look great with your roses!

  4. Yes Alberto you should get some kind of award for the Cat on Back photo. I love shadow images, and the arrow details made it so funny! I’ve never heard of a ‘kitten box’ but clearly Tigre loves it, like a birdhouse only different. Your grasses are all so graceful and pretty. I’m still sort of mentally circling the idea of grass in the garden–I’m rather used to digging it out so I have a way to go. Plus my house is from an earlier time and I do try to think of that with the plantings, although I have other imported things growing so that isn’t a serious rule I guess. Scott at Rhone Street Gardens wrote that there is an amazing grass nursery in my area so I’m sure I should take advantage of that next spring. What do you recommend as one must-have non-invasive non-huge grass which goes with flowers and maybe can take a little shade with which to begin. (I have already only a green and white striped small one that I almost killed from shade and clay but now it’s in a pot and may live to replant next year.) Thanks! L

    • Well I would be honored to be a Cat on Back somekindofaward nominee. Unfortunately I put the arrows only because I thought people wouldn’t understand and not for artistic purposes.
      I don’t really get the reason why you are so bothered about imported plants but you should know that in America you have the luck of having the most beautiful native ornamental grasses. I think one of the best part of grasses is how they reflect light so I wouldn’t plant them in full shade. I’m going to write another post about grasses and then you could choose for yourself.
      PS: the kitten box is like a bird box only the birds that enter there are dead birds.

  5. Beautiful photos! You almost would make a grass lover out of me. I am tempted, especially if I could grow them in a pot. I especially like the shots with the bench. Your Tigre reminds me of our new kitty, Autumn!

    Also, thanks for your comment on my own blog. You asked how old my Japanese maples are. Some are only a few years old, but most were planted in the fall of 1990. The oldest is as old as our marriage, 37 years!

    • That ‘almost’ still bothers me though… 🙂
      Believe me, Tigre is nothing like your sweet Autumn.
      I like taking pics of that old bench too, I guess white was the right colour for it at the end.

  6. Ciao Alberto che belle el tue foto invernali.
    Il miscanthus non è fra le mie graminacee preferite, ma devo dire che da te fa
    una gran figura.
    Troppo forti le foto del gatto!

    • Ciao Loretta! Non credo di averne una di preferita, a me le graminacee piacciono tutte, ognuna per le sue diverse caratteristiche. E poi è così facile da coltivare…

  7. So poetic Alberto : “Soon the flowers become seeds and the ‘ropes’ explode and curl and spiral in a fluffy, pearl white cotton candy. ”
    Garden centres in the UK don’t pay much attention to ornamental grasses. Until I read your blog I had only heard of pampas grass.

  8. Now you’ve made me go all competitive re miscanthus: I only have two or three varieties. I obviously have some catching up to do! “A friend of us” seems to be ignoring your heavy hint! Dave

  9. I’m never sure where Miscanthus is actually invasive here in America…but I have a feeling it’s only in Florida & California…sadly, it’s made people EVERYWHERE afraid of it. Luckily, I have no fear…and love my Miscanthus…although I only have 2 different kinds (small garden syndrom). Miscanthus Purpurascens…which, I agree, is a great, great grass…very well-behaved, with early, diamond-like blooms and great fall color. My other one, Miscanthus ‘Malepartus’ was the very first plant I planted in this garden! I had no idea at the time what variety it was…it was just labeled “Maiden Grass” (helpful, right)!?! Anyway, it’s so wonderfully full and statuesque, it really anchors that area of the garden. As always, love your grassy posts…keep ’em coming!

  10. Fabulous post Alberto, ornamental grasses reminds me of my first introduction to your blog. I really am fond of Miscanthus we have the Zebrinus unfortunately our Summers are too cool for this plant to flower some years even the stripes don’t appear. Martha Stewart! nah never heard of her.

    • Flowers are not the very attractive point on m. zebrinus but hey you need to see some stripes on it at least!!! I guess it needs heat to make the stripes appear, it’s a shame!

  11. Well, your ‘friend of ours’ finally got around to reading this, and I must say it tells me everything I want to know about miscanthus, except where to put it! I would go out and read the label and ask you for advice, but the pot is covered in snow at the moment, so I’m not going outside at all! Anyway, it looks like a bamboo; in fact suspiciously like a bamboo, and it hasn’t flowered (not surprisingly), so I’m still unsure…..Would it look good beside a duck pond?

    • That friend of us lives in a very cold and snowy place, poor him! 🙂
      Miscanthus thrives best in moisture ground, so if you’re afraid of it keep it far from the ducks and their pond. Plant it somewhere in the slope, make it suffer, but let it get some sun! Ask me for more details if you need it, or read my grass books when you come over (they’re in your language).

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