FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Muhlenbergia capillaris is a warm season perennial grass with striking seasonal color and texture. Plants form a dense mound of attractive needle-like olive-green blades. In late summer, foliage is topped by nebulous clouds of rosy-purple spikelets. Flowering continues for almost two months into autumn. As the season ends, foliage develops a tawny bronze patina and seed ripen to a soft beige. This handsome grass flourishes in sunny exposures with moist to dry soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: Muhlenbergia capillaris ranges from Massachusetts to Florida, west from Kansas to Texas and into Mexico.
This species grows in dry open woods and savannas with acidic or calcareous sandy or gravelly soil. Plants are indigenous to upland pine forests, sandy or rocky open woods, longleaf pine flatwoods, pine savannas, pine barrens, calcareous prairie openings, sandy coastal uplands, beach dunes, sandhills, roadsides and borders of marshes.
This grass is hardy from USDA Zones 6-11.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Muhlenbergia capillaris is a warm season bunch grass that forms a mound of stiff upright linear leaves.
Leaf blades average 18-30” length and 1/8” width. The blades can be flat but are often involute with the edges rolled up toward the midrib. They are somewhat rush-like. Foliage can be semi-evergreen in warm climates but generally develops a coppery hue in fall and golden brown in winter.
In late summer or early autumn, frothy pinkish panicles rise above the foliage. The panicles consist of many single-flowered spikelets supported on slender hair-like pedicels. The spikelets are usually purple or reddish with ½” hair-like awns.
From a distance the airy panicles appear as a rosy purple haze and have been described as having the appearance of cotton candy.
Plants average 3-4’ height with an equal spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Muhlenbergia capillaris prospers in full sun or light shade in average or dry soil. Plants require good drainage. They tolerate drought but become larger and more attractive if irrigated during dry spells.
Plants naturally occur in sandy or rocky soils but they are adaptable to many different soils and growing situations. They tolerate temporary flooding, acid and alkaline pH, excessive wind and moderate salinity.
Muhlenbergia capillaris is intolerant of winter wetness but responds favorably to controlled burns. Plants are pest resistant and unpalatable to deer and other herbivores.
This species does self-sow. If seeding is an issue, deadhead before seed mature. In garden situations, cut brown foliage to the ground in early spring to make way for new leaves.
LANDSCAPE USES: This attractive grass is useful as an Accent, Grouping or Mass Planting for Meadows, Perennial Borders and Coastal Gardens. Muhlenbergia capillaris provides Showy Flowers, Cut Flowers, Fall Color and aids in Erosion Control. This species is a candidate for Cottage Gardens, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Rain Gardens, Rock Gardens, Roadsides and Restoration Projects.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Try pairing Muhlenbergia capillaris with Aster oblongifolius, Carex pensylvanica, Helianthus divaricatus, Liatris aspera, Monarda punctata, Pycnanthemum incanum, Rudbeckia fulgida var fulgida, Schizachrium scoparium and Solidago nemoralis.
Eragrostis spectabilis would be a worthy substitute in some situations. It is a smaller and shorter grass with similar cultural needs and airy pinkish blooms.
TRIVIA: Muhlenbergia capillaris was selected by the Garden Club of America as Plant of the Year and awarded the 2012 Freeman Medal.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=MUCA2