Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Sweet, or is it?

If you have ever been to the Lowcountry of South Carolina around this time of year, you will recognize what I am about to describe.
You are driving down the interstate or pretty much anywhere around the area and up ahead you see a purple haze in the median. Kind of looks like a fog or sometimes even smoke. You wonder if there is a problem. Should I slow down? Will it spread across the road?
As you get closer you begin to realize it is nothing of the sort.
It is just some Muhlenbergia capillaris, also known as Sweetgrass and Gulf Muhly Grass. Muhlenbergia, one of the largest genera in this family, is named in honor of Giotthilf  H.E. Muhlengerg (1753-1815), a minister, as well a a pioneer American botanist of German extraction whose family brought the Lutheran religion to Pennsylvania in the early part of the 18th century.
Sweet Grass is a showy clump forming type of grass that can get to 3 feet tall and just as wide. It does not produce runners, as it originates from the base clump.
That purplish or sometimes pink haze that you see is the flower or inflorescence. That flower can be 18 inches long and as much as 10 inches wide. It stands well above the wiry leaves. Appearing in late Summer, it will persist for 6-8 weeks.
Muhlenbergia capillaris is a variety of Muhlenbergia filipes, which is used in the making of Sweet Grass Baskets. Both of these grasses are native to South Carolina and they grow on the barrier islands along the coast, such as, Kiawah, Seabrook, Fripp, and Hilton Head. All together there are some 60 species of Mulenbergia.
Their growing range extends from Zone 5 all the way down to Zone 10. Full sun to light shade is the light requirement. This is an excellent plant for just about any type of soil you might have, it tolerates conditions from moist to dry, acidic to alkaline, and sandy to clay. It even tolerates salt spray. Being that it is tolerant of such poor conditions, it makes a good groundcover for those hard to fill areas. If you have a friend that is growing it or if you have had it a long time and want to have more in another part of the yard, the clumps can be dug up and hacked apart easily. This is best done in the Fall or early Spring. There is little to no problem with pests or diseases.
I am not a big fan of grasses, but I can tolerate Sweet Grass. It does have a pretty showing in the Fall, especially if you can find the rare white form (Muhlenbergia capillaris 'White Cloud') and mix the two together.
Happy Growing!


  1. That is a beautiful grass! I love when it does it seeds on the top and has this smoky look to it....right now, one of my kumquat trees has loads of fruit on it....I have two varieties growing....this is the larger kumquat and super's like candy on a tree.....I thought I'd share my citrus adventure for the day:) Hope you have a good start to your week.

  2. Darren, where I think many things are Zone "underrated", I question the Zone 5 on this one...nobody I know around here in 5B grows it and I've failed twice. I'd love to have it because it's a beautiful grass.