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Pink Muhly Grass Prized for Ornamental Display

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Muhlenbergia capillaris Robert E. Lyons ©

Muhlenbergia capillaris
Robert E. Lyons ©

Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful ornamental grasses, Muhlenbergia capillaris, or pink muhly grass, as it is commonly known in North Carolina, is prized for the fall show it creates. With flowers that look like a purple cloud from afar, this knee-high grass is a native that occurs in eastern North America from Kansas to Massachusetts and south to Florida and Texas.

Given this wide range of adaptation, pink muhly grass thrives in many environments, from wet prairies and dry savannas, at the outer edges of marshes, to well-drained upland pine forests. It performs best in full sun. Once established, a dense stand is remarkable in the late summer and fall when the silky, wispy, purplish-pink panicles of bloom appear almost overnight. Each panicle is 12 to 18 inches long, and up to 10 inches wide, standing tall above the wiry leaves. The color persists for 6 to 8 weeks, or until frost, when the ripe seeds that follow give an attractive tan color to the wispy plumes.

The most striking way to plant muhly grass is in clumps. Each plant consists of wire-like stems that originate from a basal clump and will get up to 3 feet tall and just as wide. Plant muhly grass in borders and perennial gardens where a fine-textured foliage is desired to accent bolder specimens. It makes an excellent groundcover for areas with poor soils, or use as a refined specimen grass in natural gardens. It is easy to start from seed and easily can be divided to start new plants. Unlike some of the non-native ornamental grasses, muhly grass will not displace other native plants and grasses. Leave the plant in the garden over the winter for interest and cut it back to around 6 to 8 inches before new growth in the spring.

Muhlenbergia capillaris Robert E. Lyons ©

Muhlenbergia capillaris
Robert E. Lyons ©

The prominence of muhly grass at the JC Raulston Arboretum lies squarely in the striking perennial border. From a distance, this grass complements surrounding plants. Up close, its fine texture and bold mass can really be appreciated when in full flower.

Royce Hardin