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December 2006: Featured Plant
Muhlenbergia sericea: Sweet-grass, Dune Hair-grass

Muhlengeria sericea: Sweet-grass, Dune Hair-grass

An attractive medium-green bunch grass with long, almost round, stiff leaves that bend over in a graceful habit. In late Autumn it sends up bright-red delicate spikes that are a real statement in the landscape through most of December before they fade. It is related to Muhlenbergia cappillaris, Pink Muhly, now a popular landscape plant, and at one time Sweet-grass was considered to be a variety or subspecies of Pink Muhly. Weakley (2006) discusses the evidence that Sweet-grass should be elevated to its own species. USDA Plants and others do not recognize this taxon, not even as a variety of Pink Muhly.

This taxon is the major grass used in basket weaving by the Gullah of South Carolina. It is evergreen and does well here in the Piedmont during drought, although most plantings from seed have been slow to reach their final size and maximum flowering. Armitage (2006) considers Pink Muhly as the greatest ornamental grass for the South, though perhaps only if planted in mass. Having seen both of them, I suggest that Sweet-grass is even better, and our specimen plantings are still relatively young.

Consider it as a substitute for Eragrostis spectabilis, Purple Love-grass, the drought- and fire-resistant non-native that is widely planted for erosion control and as an ornamental. Not as finely textured foliage as that of Purple Love-grass, but Sweet-grass remains green throughout the year and its spikes are certainly more spectacular.

Image by Glenn Galau ©