Among the showiest and liveliest-looking of ornamental grasses, these are clump-forming plants that range from very large kinds to dwarf types good for small gardens and containers. Attractive flower panicles appear atop tall stalks; they open as tassels and gradually expand into silvery to pinkish or bronze plumes that usually last well into winter. Leaves are broad or narrow, always graceful; they may be solid colored, striped lengthwise, or banded crosswise. In fall and winter, foliage of most species turns shades of yellow, orange, or reddish brown; it looks especially showy against snow or a background of dark evergreens. Stunning accent plants in large pots. Best planted in spring. Deer resistant.
M. x giganteus. GIANT SILVER GRASS. Impressive upright grass to 1014 ft. tall, 810 ft. wide; self-supporting on stems to 2 in. thick. Arching, drooping leaves to 3 ft. long, 1 12 in. wide, dark green with white midrib. Flower plumes to 1 ft. long rise 12 ft. above foliage during very late summer to fall; they emerge tan, open silver. Leaves turn purplish green in fall, then drop to leave tall, bare stalks over winter. Good summer screen or hedge; provides tropical effect. Takes seacoast conditions. Give partial shade in the Coastal South.
M. 'Purpurascens'. FLAME GRASS. Best in Upper and Middle South, where summers are not so long and hot. Upright clump 34 ft. high and wide, with green leaves to 12 in. wide. Silvery flower plumes 56 ft. tall. Foliage turns orange-red in fall, then fades to reddish brown. Can be short lived.
M. sinensis. JAPANESE SILVER GRASS. Native to Japan, Korea, China. Variable in size and foliage. Blooms in late summer or fall. Flowers are usually held well above foliage clumps; they may be cut for fresh or dried arrangements. Many selections are obtainable, and new ones arrive on the market every year. Here are some of the choicest.
'Adagio'. Very narrow, green leaves form a clump 23 ft. high and wide. Pink plumes rise to 45 ft. Better flower production than similar 'Yaku Jima'. Yellow fall foliage. Good container plant.
'Dixieland'. Compact grower to 34 ft. tall and wide. Green leaves edged with prominent white stripes.
'Goldfeder' ('Gold Feather'). Clump grows 45 ft. high and wide, with -in.-wide leaves edged light golden yellow. Silvery pink flower plumes on lax stems to 7 ft. tall. Stems tend to flop, but do so gracefully; can be staked to keep upright.
'Gracillimus'. MAIDEN GRASS. Narrow, dark green leaves with silver midrib; graceful clump to 45 ft. high, 68 ft. wide. Stems 56 ft. tall bear coppery plumes that mature to cream. Tends to flop; divide in spring every year or two to keep compact. Bright orange fall foliage. Self-sows profusely and can become a pest.
'Gracillimus Nanus'. DWARF MAIDEN GRASS. Growing only 3-4 ft. tall, it could be the answer for smaller gardens, containers, or compact compositions.
'Graziella'. Narrow leaves form a clump 45 ft. tall, 58 ft. wide. Silvery ostrich plumes rise to 67 ft. Coppery red and orange fall foliage. More refined and upright than 'Gracillimus'.
'Kirk Alexander'. Clump to 34 ft. tall and wide, with green leaves horizontally banded in greenish yellow. Pinkish copper plumes on stems to 5 ft. tall. More compact than the comparable 'Zebrinus'.
'Malepartus'. Dark green leaves are broader than those of species, in a clump 3 ft. high and wide. Flower plumes on 6- to 7-ft. stalks open rose-pink, fade to silvery white, finish tan. Orange fall foliage.
'Morning Light'. Sport of 'Gracillimus', with narrow band of white on leaf margins; less vigorous and more compact than 'Gracillimus'. Grows to 34 ft. high and wide; coppery flower plumes reach 56 ft. tall. Where the growing season is long, dig and divide clumps yearly to keep plants compact. Seedlings have leaves like those of 'Gracillimus'deep green with silvery midrib. Good choice for heat and humidity.
'Sarabande'. Resembles 'Gracillimus' but is finer textured over all, with narrower leaves that are held more erect.
'Strictus'. PORCUPINE GRASS. Narrow, erect clump 46 ft. tall, 34 ft. wide. Spiky, 12-in.-wide leaves are banded horizontally with creamy yellow, suggesting porcupine quills. Golden plumes on 5- to 7-ft.-tall stems. Tends to flop with weight of blooms; should be staked.
'Variegatus'. A fountain of silver. Graceful, weeping clump 34 ft. high and wide, with -in. green leaves edged and striped in white. Spikes 56 ft. tall, tend to flop, especially on older plants; need staking. Divide every year or two. Give partial shade in Coastal South.
'Yaku Jima'. Compact, fine-leafed selection similar in form to 'Adagio'. Tan flower plumes; reddish brown fall foliage.
'Zebrinus'. ZEBRA GRASS. Like 'Strictus' but lax and broadly arching; certain to flop in bloom unless staked. Most plants sold under this name are 'Strictus'.
M. s. condensatus 'Cabaret'. Boldest variegated miscanthus. Big, upright clump 67 ft. tall, 45 ft. across; wide (to 114-in.), ribbonlike leaves with a broad white center stripe and green edges. Pink-suffused stems to 89 ft. bear coppery pink plumes that age to cream.
M. s. c. 'Cosmopolitan'. Similar in growth and bloom to 'Cabaret', but foliage has the reverse pattern: leaves have a green center (with a white midrib) and white margins.
M. transmorrisonensis. EVERGREEN MISCANTHUS. Native to Taiwan. Forms a compact clump 212312 ft. high and 34 ft. wide, with leaves 23 ft. long, 12 in. wide. Foliage remains green into early winter (and is evergreen in mildest-winter areas). Slender, silvery flower plumes on stems 57 ft. tall.
Plant begins blooming in spring in Coastal South; cutting stems nearly to ground when plumes begin to fade will produce a second bloom flushsometimes even a third one. Cutting back stems also keeps clump looking fresh. Where winters are cold, bloom time comes in mid- to late summer. Plumes age to tan and drop their seeds before winter, leaving bare stems. Makes a good large-scale ground cover if given regular moisture and yearly mowing.
Cut back old foliage nearly to the ground before new leaves sprout in early spring; in climates with a long growing season, you can cut back again in mid- summer to keep compact and to freshen foliage. Some selections collapse at bloom time unless given support of four or five narrow stakes inserted inconspicuously at edge of clump, concealed by foliage; wind twine or wire around stakes and clump at two levels. Divide in early spring every 2 or 3 years to limit clump size and prevent decline in vigor. Variegated types and thin-leafed species don't do well in central and southern Florida.