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A Floridata Plant Profile #817 Pennisetum alopecuroides
Common Names: Chinese fountain grass, fountain grass, Chinese pennisetum, swamp foxtail
Family: Poaceae/Gramineae (grass Family)
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Grass  Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage Flowers Useful for fresh and/or dried arrangements

Chinese fountain grass
Chinese fountain grass creates a dramatic effect when planted in breeze-rippled masses.
The genus Pennisetum gives us several ornamental fountain grasses. This one is the most commonly cultivated of the cold hardy species. Chinese pennisetum is a perennial grass that grows in a slowly expanding clump, 2-4 ft (0.6-1.2 m) tall and just as wide. It has narrow, linear leaves that are flat, 12-20 in (30.5-50.8 cm) long, less than 0.5 in (1.3 cm) wide, and slightly scabrous. The arching mound of bright green foliage turns golden brown in winter. The flower spikelets are borne in bristly yellowish to purplish cylinders to 8 in (20.3 cm) long. They resemble bottle brushes, and are at their peak in summer and begin to disintegrate by early winter. Many cultivars are available, with clumps ranging from less than 1 ft (0.3 m) to over 5ft (1.5 m) tall. 'Hameln' is small, with clumps less than 3 ft (0.9 m) tall, and produces creamy white flower clusters. 'Little Bunny' is only about a foot tall. 'Little Honey' is also only about 1 ft (0.3 m) tall and has white striped leaves. 'Moudry' has wider leaves and dark purple, almost black, foxtail flowers; it self-sows and can be invasive in adjacent flower beds and lawns. 'Paul's Giant' get 5 ft (1.5 m) tall and has light tan flowers.

Chinese fountain grass is native from eastern Asia to western Australia. It has escaped cultivation and established in many areas including California and parts of the northeastern United States.

Cut back in early spring before new growth begins.
Light: Full sun is best but Chinese pennisetum can be grown in partial shade.
Moisture: Chinese fountain grass is moderately tolerant of drought, but does best with regular watering. It requires supplemental water in arid climates. This is actually a good grass for the edge of the water garden.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9.
Propagation: Propagate cultivars of fountain grass by dividing the root clump in the dormant season.

flower spike
Chinese fountain grass flower spikes vary in color from dark purple to light tan.
Chinese fountain grass is at its best in masses, especially borders. Plant at 3-4 ft (0.9-1.2 m) spacings. This grass is a graceful, fine-textured fountain of foliage and bristly bottlebrush flowers that adds interest and beauty most of the year. The dense, foxtail-like flower spikes are excellent in fresh arrangements, but they shatter in winter.

The generic name, Pennisetum, is from the Latin words for feather and bristle and refers to the bristly inflorescence. Other popular fountain grasses are African fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), oriental fountain grass (P. orientale) and 'Burgundy Giant' fountain grass (P. macrostachium).

In moist soils, Chinese fountain grass, especially 'Moudry', 'National Arboretum' and other wide leaved cultivars, can be invasive. Check with your local extension agent to see what cultivars are safe for your area.

Steve Christman 10/07/00; updated 3/17/04

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