FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' is a compact switch grass variety with striking red fall color. Foliage and stems are upright and medium silvery green. In summer airy reddish flower panicles rise above the foliage and seem to dance in the evening light. Foliage develops red highlights during summer before turning wine red in autumn. As winter rolls around, seed and leaves transform to a rusty brown color. ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ thrives in prairie type settings or in sunny gardens with moist, average or dry soils.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: The parent species, Panicum virgatum, ranges through most of the southern Canadian provinces and the United States. Plants are indigenous to prairies, savannas, glades, rocky bluffs, stream banks, open woods, sand dunes, marsh edges, roadsides, ditches and fields.
Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' is an older cultivar selected at Karl Foerster’s German nursery. The German name ‘Rotstrahlbusch' means “red ray bush” and refers to the burgundy fall color which appears first in the leaf tips.
Panicum virgatum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is hardy from USDA Zones 4-9.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' is a narrowly upright bunch grass that produces many vertical culms from short rhizomes.
The linear leaves are arranged alternately on green glaucous stems. Blades are erect with a medium silver green tone. In summer, the leaves begin to take on red highlights.
In late summer as the foliage reaches mature height, open airy flower panicles rise above the leaves. The nebulous panicles consist of many small reddish spikelets displayed on wiry stems.
In autumn the panicles turn straw yellow and spikelets ripen into soft tan seed. Both seed and foliage develop a rusty golden color in winter.
This compact selection has leafy growth about 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Blooms rise above the foliage to a 5’ height.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' prospers in sunny sites with average to moist sandy or clay soil.
Shaded exposures, excessively rich soil, abundant water and fertilizer applications can cause stems to become lax. As a result, this cultivar is more likely to maintain its narrow upright habit in full sun and lean dry soil.
Plants tolerate clay, alkalinity, drought, moderate salinity and seasonal flooding.
The only maintenance needed is to cut or burn this grass to the ground in late winter.
LANDSCAPE USES: The stiff narrow habit and shorter height of Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' allow this cultivar to be particularly useful for small residential gardens. This grass is an appealing Accent or Grouping for Perennial Borders or urban Meadows where it provides Erosion Control, Fall Color, Winter Interest, Showy Blooms and Attractive Seedheads. Plants are also appropriate for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Water Wise Landscapes and Rain Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: The intense red fall color of 'Rotstrahlbusch' is the perfect foil for the golden flowers of Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida, Coreopsis tripteris or Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’. Other appropriate companions include Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’, Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Echinacea purpurea or Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Munchkin’.
If a substitute is needed, Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ would provide similar foliage color, cultural needs and habit. ‘Shenandoah’ is more compact, however.
TRIVIA: Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' is very similar to the cultivar ‘Hanse Herms’. Some references even claim that 'Rotstrahlbusch’ and ‘Hanse Herms’ are synonymous.