These very large grasses include the species known as sugar cane. They are spectacular in the gardenbut be sure to give them plenty of room. Use in masses, group as tall screens, or plant as specimens and accents where you want a dramatic vertical element in the garden. Easy to grow in moist, well-drained, fertile soil. No serious pests.
S. arundinaceum. HARDY SUGAR CANE. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Native to China, India, and Southeast Asia. Its pulp has been used in the making of paper. The grass forms a huge clumpup to 10 ft. tall (in bloom) and quite nearly as wide. Long, narrow, gray-green leaves have white midribs. Blooms in early autumn, holding its upright flower plumes well above the foliage; plumes emerge purplish pink, then fade to silver by late fall. 'Purple People Greeter' has leaves edged in amber-purple.
S. brevibarbe contortum (S. contortum). BENT-AWN PLUME GRASS. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Native to the eastern U.S., from Delaware south to Florida and Texas. Forms a 3- to 4-ft.-tall, narrowly upright clump of slender, bluish green leaves that turn purple, bronze, and red in fall and hold their color in winter. Erect, reddish to purple-brown plumes rise 24 ft. above the foliage in late summer and fall. Self-sows. Full sun or light shade. Formerly listed as Erianthus contortus.
S. officinarum. SUGAR CANE. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Probably native to India and Southeast Asia. This giant grass has been grown for centuriesthe sweet juice contained in its thick canes is the commercial source of sugar. Only recently, however, has it been more broadly appreciated for its ornamental potential. Forms an imposing clump (eventually expands to 6 8 ft. wide) of upright, long, slender, green to bluish green leaves; clump can reach 15 ft. tall, growing 810 ft. in just one year. Fluffy, whitish, nodding flower plumes are slender and arching, appear in early fall (though they are rarely seen in nontropical areas). Hardy to 20F. Tolerates wet soils. In most gardens, it's treated as an annual and used as a vertical accent; sometimes grown as an edible novelty or a substitute for bamboo. Selections with colored canes and leaves are becoming available and popular; one of these is 'Pele's Smoke', featuring showy, bronze-purple leaves with pink midribs growing from dusky purple canes.
S. ravennae. RAVENNA GRASS. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Native to southern Europe. The slender, gray-green leaves form a dense, 4- to 6-ft.-wide and 6-ft.-tall fountain that bears giant plumes of silvery gray flowers in late summer. Mature plants may produce 40plumeseach 15 ft. highthat cast a spectacular silhouette when backlit by the sun. Similar to pampas grass (Cortaderia) but less symmetrical and much hardier; good substitute for pampas grass in the Upper South (USDA 6). Vigorous grower. Does well in average to poor soils but must have good drainage. Little to moderate water once established. Formerly listed as Erianthus ravennae.