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Miscanthus

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Quick Look

Native to Asia, Miscanthus has been an icon in Europe and North America for well over a hundred years. The lush plumes and arching foliage have inspired generations of plant breeders. An abundance of cultivars makes it possible to find a Miscanthus for a range of landscapes. And they make stunning plants for containers.

Grow this genus in full sun for best results and resist over fertilizing. If reseeding is a concern, choose late blooming cultivars. The shorter growing season inherent in cold climates also reduces or eliminates unwanted seed germination.

Digging Deeper

The genus Miscanthus includes approximately 20 species. The name comes from the Greek mischos meaning “stalk” and anthos, “flowers.” This refers to the tiny flowers on its dramatic plumes. Grasses in this genus are called Maiden Grass, Chinese Silver Grass, Japanese Silver Grass, Susuki Grass, or Eulalia Grass. Miscanthus is part of the Poaceae family.

Miscanthus is native to Asia. It is found in China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea in meadows, marshes, hillsides, and abandoned areas, near active volcanoes, in poor soil and on mountainsides up to 5000 feet.

Miscanthus has a long and rich history in Japan. It is a dominant species in Japan’s grasslands. Known as Susuki Grass, its blooms are considered a sign of autumn. Cattle use it for fodder and it is a main component of thatched roofs. Children make play toys out of the fluffy blooms, and its fibers are made into paper. The University of Minnesota has an Ethnobotany page, which shows photos of the many uses of Miscanthus in the orient.

Giant Miscanthus (<i>Miscanthus</i> x <i>giganteus</i>) has been the target of research on alternative fuels.
Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) has been the target of research on alternative fuels.

Miscanthus & Alternative Energy

Miscanthus x giganteus, a sterile hybrid, is a candidate for renewable energy. It has a high biomass yield, low mineral content, and rapid growth rate. It can grow up to 12 feet in height or more. This giant is already grown in Europe as a commercial energy crop, and it is being studied for use in the U.S. as well. Don’t let its scientific properties mislead you; it’s also a wonderful screen or dramatic specimen in the landscape.

Many Choices

Perhaps the most recognizable ornamental grasses reside in the Miscanthus genus, maybe because their flowers are similar. However, the way they show off flowers varies. Some hold blooms tight in the foliage (‘Yaku Jima’), and others tower on tall stalks (‘Purpurascens’).

Foliage also varies. The super-variegated ‘Gold Breeze’ with its yellow, horizontal stripes demands attention, while the elegant, gentle white lines on fine-textured ‘Morning Light’ speak more softly. Flame Grass foliage (‘Purpurascens’) turns blazing reds and oranges in fall. Other cultivars go straight to golden brown after first frost. Each cultivar’s distinctive qualities provide benefits to popular landscapes.

Dwarf varieties (3-4’) fit into small gardens, borders, and foregrounds and add a bit of whimsy with style. Larger varieties (7-12’) excel as specimens, backgrounds, and screens.

This abundance of cultivars makes it possible to find a Miscanthus suitable for many ornamental grass landscape projects. And they make stunning plants for decorative containers. Which plant to use? That depends on design, function, and, of course, personal preference. There's bound to be a cultivar that fits. 

<i>Miscanthus sinensis</i> 'Morning Light'
Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'

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