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Zones vary by species.


Fountain Grass
Poaceae (Gramineae)
Annuals, Ornamental grasses and grasslike plants, Perennials

Growing in fountainlike mounds, these are among the most graceful of the ornamental grasses. They have long, narrow leaves and arching stems that bear furry, foxtail-like flower plumes in summer, with bloom often extending into fall. Use them in containers, in perennial or shrub borders, or as bank covers.

Pennisetum alopecuroides

Perennial from eastern Asia. Grows to 5 ft. high and wide. Clump of bright green foliage is topped by pinkish plumes. Leaves turn yellow in fall, brown in winter. Species and varieties can self-sow.

Pennisetum orientale
Pennisetum orientale

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Pennisetum orientale

Perennial from central and western Asia. Grows to 2 ft. high and 2 1/2 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.

Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’
Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’

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Pennisetum setaceum

Often grown as an annual in colder climates. From tropical Africa, southwestern Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula. Grows to 5 ft. high and wide. Forms a dense clump of medium green foliage; long plumes of coppery pink or purplish flowers are held within the clump or just above it. Dies back in winter, even in mild climates. Full sun. Can take supplemental irrigation but doesn’t need any. In arid climates, thrives in gravel beds and other dry sites. Thanks to its heavy self-sowing, this species will threaten to crowd out native vegetation when planted near open country; it has become a rampant pest in the Hawaiian Islands. To prevent seeding, cut off flower plumes before seeds mature.

‘Rubrum’ (‘Cupreum’) has purplish red leaves and rose-colored plumes that fade to beige. ‘Eaton Canyon’ (‘Red Riding Hood’) is similar in color but grows to just 1 1/2–2 ft. tall and wide; it is evergreen in frost-free areas. Neither usually sets seed. Some believe that these red-leafed plants belong to another species.

‘Purple Majesty’

Developed from a millet species from Asia and Africa that has long been cultivated for its edible seeds. Grows to 3–5 ft. tall and 2–3 ft. wide, with huge, spear-shaped leaves up to 3 ft. long and 2 in. wide. Foliage is rich purple, darkest in full sun. Stiff, cylindrical, purple flower spikes up to 20 in. long appear atop foliage in midsummer. Cut bloom spikes before they mature and use them in dried arrangements, or leave them to reach maturity on the plant, where they’ll attract birds. Easy to start from seed. Best in full sun with regular water.

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