Growing in graceful, fountainlike mounds, these are among the most foolproof grasses for the South. They have long, narrow leaves and arching stems that bear furry, foxtail-like plumes. Bloom begins in summer and often extends into fall. Excellent in containers, in mixed borders, as dramatic sweeps, and for bank covers. Cut back perennial types to within a few inches of the ground in late winter for fresh new growth in spring. Resist deer.
P. x advena 'Fireworks'. FIREWORKS FOUNTAIN GRASS. Perennial in Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11; annual elsewhere. Showy, 2-ft.-tall mound of upright foliage is bright pink with a burgundy stripe down the center. With soft burgundy, arching plumes, it reaches 212 ft.
P. alopecuroides. CHINESE PENNISETUM. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From eastern Asia. To 5 ft. high and wide. Clump of bright green foliage is topped by silvery pink, tan, or whitish flower plumes. Bright green leaves turn yellow in fall, then brown in winter. Recommended selections include 'Cassian's Choice' ('Cassian'), with light brown plumes and golden, red-tinted fall foliage to 3 ft. high and wide; 'Foxtrot', with tall tan plumes reaching 5 ft. tall; 'Hameln', with wide, silvery plumes at 2212 ft. tall and wide; 'Little Bunny', with pinkish plumes at only 1 ft. tall and wide; and 'Moudry', with striking black plumes at 3 ft. high and wide. The species and its selections all can self-sow in moist conditions; 'Moudry' is an especially heavy self-seeder.
P. glaucum 'Purple Majesty'. PURPLE MAJESTY ORNAMENTAL MILLET. Perennial in Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11; annual elsewhere. Developed from a species from Asia and Africa that has long been cultivated for its edible seeds. To 35 ft. tall and 23 ft. wide, with spear-shaped leaves to 3 ft. long, 2 in. wide. Foliage is rich purple, darkest in full sun. Stiff, cylindrical flower spikes to 20 in. long appear atop foliage in midsummer. Cut the flower spikes before they mature, and use them in dried arrangements; or leave them to mature on the plant, where they'll attract birds. Easy to start from seed. Best in full sun, with regular water.
P. macrostachyum 'Burgundy Giant'. Perennial in Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11; annual elsewhere. Variant of a species from the East Indies. This bold, tropical-looking, very tender grass resembles a reddish purple corn plant. Grows 45 ft. tall and 2 ft. across, with foot-long leaves that are broader than those of most other fountain grasses (nearly 1 in. wide). Foliage is held on strong, upright burgundy stems. Red-purple flower plumes up to 1 ft. long appear on nod- ding stems above the foliage in mid-summer; fade to cream in fall. Needs full sun, regular water. Not to be confused with purple fountain grass (P. setaceum 'Rubrum'), a shorter, more graceful plant.
P. orientale. ORIENTAL FOUNTAIN GRASS. Perennial. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. From central and western Asia. To 2 ft. high, 212 ft. wide, with pinkish plumes standing above a mound of green to gray-green foliage. Plumes mature to light brown; foliage turns straw colored in winter. Seldom self-sows. Recommended selections include 3-ft.-tall 'Karley Rose', with an upright form with dark green foliage and deep pink plumes, and 'Tall Tails', a very heat-tolerant 6-footer with tan plumes that does well in Florida.
P. purpureum. ELEPHANT GRASS. Perennial in Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11; annual in the Middle and Upper South. Native to Africa. Give it sunlight and moderate moisture and it thrives. The species will reseed in frost-free areas and can be invasive, growing to 15 ft. tall. However, cultivated forms are a more manageable choice, being shorter and unlikely to reseed. 'Prince' and 'Princess' have purple leaves, growing 56 ft. tall and 23 ft. tall, respectively. 'Vertigo' is also purple and intermediate, growing 34 ft. tall. All are heat tolerant and keep their color in sun.
P. setaceum. FOUNTAIN GRASS. Perennial in Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11; annual elsewhere. From tropical Africa, southwestern Asia, Arabian Peninsula. Dense, rounded, medium green foliage clump to 4 ft. high and wide. Coppery pink or purplish plumes are held within the clump or just above it. Tolerates drought once established. Particularly prone to self-sowing. Less likely to set seed is its selection 'Rubrum', purple fountain grass, with reddish purple leaves and showy rose-colored plumes; it's among the most popular of ornamental grasses, outstanding in containers and mixed borders. 'Sky Rocket' has white and green variegated foliage, white plumes blushed with pink.
P. villosum. FEATHERTOP. Perennial in Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11; annual elsewhere. From Africa. Thin, cascading, medium green leaves form a mound to 3 ft. tall and wide. Foliage is topped in summer by soft, feathery, creamy white plumes that look great in fresh or dried arrangements. Easy to start from seed. Will self-sow. Best in full sun, with regular water. 'Cream Falls' is a heavily blooming selection.