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Maiden Grass: Miscanthus Sinensis Gracillimus

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Picture of maiden grass in late fall.

Picture of maiden grass in late fall.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Maiden Grass Miscanthus:

Plant taxonomy classifies this plant as Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus.' The genus name, Miscanthus is derived from two Greek words, mischos ("stalk") and anthos ("flower"); but it's so widely recognized as to function virtually as a common name, in which case I don't capitalize it. The specific epithet, sinensis means "of China." Finally, 'Gracillimus,' the cultivar name, means "very graceful." The common name for the plant is "maiden grass"; but since I mention other types of miscanthus in this article, I refer to it as "maiden grass miscanthus" to distinguish it from these other types of miscanthus.

Characteristics of Maiden Grass Miscanthus:

Maiden grass miscanthus would be worth growing for its graceful arching form, alone. But it boasts other desirable features, too, including coppery flower heads in early fall (in my zone 5 garden) that later become silvery white plumes. When in flower, this clump-forming plant will reach 6'-8.' Stems redden in fall. A silver stripe runs up the middle of the sword-like green leaves. These leaves yellow up somewhat by mid-fall and may fade to a beige in winter -- still colorful enough for us to say that the plant truly comes into its own in winter, when there is little else left in the landscape for visual interest.

Planting Zones:

This plant can be grown in planting zones 5-9. Miscanthus sinensis is indigenous to Korea, China and Japan.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Maiden Grass Miscanthus:

It will grow best in full sun and in a moist but well-drained soil. Once established, however, it is a drought-tolerant ornamental grass.

Other Cultivars of Miscanthus Sinensis:

There are many types of Miscanthus sinensis. Below, I'll mention a few that are known for their variegated foliage:

  • Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus'): horizontal golden bands, arching form
  • Porcupine grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Strictus'): horizontal yellow bands, erect form (think of the rigidity of a porcupine's quills!)
  • Variegated Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus'): vertical white stripes along the edges, arching form

Plant Care for Maiden Grass Miscanthus:

Maiden grass needs some room, as the clumps get quite large, eventually. Divide every few years to "spread the wealth" and keep the clumps more manageable.

Cut the foliage down to ground level in late winter or early spring to make room for the new shoots. Leaving the dead grass stalks to wave in the breeze during winter accomplishes two things:

  1. They will serve as a sort of "mulch" to protect the living parts of the plant underground
  2. They can make for some nice winter scenes, especially after a snowfall

Caveat:

The US Forest Service reports that Miscanthus sinensis is considered an invasive plant in many states. For eradication they recommend spraying with glyphosate (RoundUp). It spreads via rhizomes.

Alternate Common Name for Maiden Grass Miscanthus:

"Eulalia" is another common name for Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus.'

Uses for Maiden Grass Miscanthus:

As a tall plant, maiden grass miscanthus can be used in the back rows of flower beds to serve, for example, as a light-colored backdrop for black flowers and other dark plants; or it can be used as a focal point, surrounded by smaller plants. Its fine plant texture provides a nice contrast to plants with coarse textures. Since it prefers a soil on the moist side, consider using it around water features. Include it in a mixed, loose shrub border for informal privacy screening, or go with Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' all the way and plant it as an ornamental grass hedge. Maiden grass miscanthus offers the airy look sought in cottage gardens. If none of these uses apply to your yard, simply use maiden grass miscanthus as a specimen plant for winter landscapes.
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