GGW Plant Pick of The Month- Pennisetum

– Posted in: Garden Plants

Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’

In search of inspiration I ventured to the Missouri Botanical Garden last week. In the back corner of the Trial Gardens at the Kemper Center I stumbled across a stunning new ornamental millet, Pennisetum glaucum ‘Jade Princess’.  This upright, mounded variety with chartreuse leaves and dark maroon, pollen-less seedheads reaches 36-48″H x 18-24″W. It is a must have annual for 2010!

I’ve selected the genus Pennisetum (specifically, varieties I have grown or intend to grow) to highlight as August’s GGW Plant Pick of The Month.

Pennisetum setaceum rubrum 'Fireworks'

Pennisetum setaceum rubrum ‘Fireworks’

Variegated Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum rubrum ‘Fireworks’) was introduced in 2008 by Ron Strastko of Creek Hill Nursery. The variegation is a lovely combination of burgundy, hot pink and white. ‘Fireworks’ (foliage) reaches 24″H and is hardy in USDA zones 9-10. I’m growing it in the Gardens at the Bank of Springfield this season (shown above with Canna x generalis ‘China Doll’, Eucalyptus ‘Silverdrop’, Tithonia ‘Fiesta Del Sol’, Alpinia zerumbet, Cleome ‘Spirit Frost’ and Washingtonia robusta).

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ with Canna x generalis ‘China Doll’ (background) and Helenium amarum ‘Dakota Gold’ (foreground)

Dwarf fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’) is a perennial favorite (hardy USDA zones 5-9). ‘Hameln’ forms an upright, dome-shaped mound about 24″H. Creamy flower spikes appear in late July. Foliage shifts from green to orange-bronze in autumn and finally to beige with the onset of winter. ‘Hameln’ combines well with caryopteris, coreopsis, sedum, rubeckia, aster, liatris, nepeta, and salvia.

If you are looking for an even more compact fountain grass try Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Piglet’. It is half the size of ‘Hameln’.

Pennisetum Zinnia

Pennisetum setaceum rubrum

Another favorite is purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum rubrum). This vigorous annual (hardy USDA zones 9-10) reaches 36-48″H x 24-36″W in one growing season. Burgundy foliage is topped with graceful, arching fox-tail like blooms. Rubrum dances with a gentle breeze. It is lovely combined with saliva, zinnia, rudbeckia, datura, eucalyptus, solenostemon, colocasia or verbena.

If your site requires a larger purple fountain grass try, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Burgundy Giant’ (4-5’H, with larger leaves). For smaller sites, try Pennisetum setaceum ‘Red Riding Hood’, a dwarf form reaching 24″H.

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Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty'

In my January 2009 post, Anchoring Vignettes with Tropical Foliage, I wrote of “successful” combinations built around lush foliage plants. Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’ was included for its strong vertical interest (4-5’H with flower stalks 12-14″ long). The cultivar’s burgundy foliage and seedheads are a perfect foil for hot- and cool- color palettes. ‘Purple Majesty’ is an All-America Selection Gold Medal winner (2003). Shown above with reseeding Rudbeckia hirta ‘Indian Summer’ and Helenium autumnale ‘Mardis Gras’.


Pennisetum messiacum ‘Red Bunny Tails’ (Image courtesy Proven Winners, LLC)

Bunny Tails Fountain Grass (Pennisetum messiacum ‘Red Bunny Tails’) is perfect for containers, adding height (24-36″H) and drama. The annual grass produces deep pink flowers that resemble rabbits’ tails and persist through the season.

Do you have a favorite Pennisetum? We’d like to hear about it.

If this is your first time visiting GGW Plant Pick of The Month and you’d like to participate, simply post your comments below and link to your own site where you’ve posted photos of Pennisetum varieties and comments about your experience working with the plant, successful planting combinations, etc.

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Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff

Adam Woodruff has practiced garden design since 1995. He trained as a Botanist at Eastern Illinois University. Woodruff attributes his unique design aesthetic, naturalism with a twist, to early college exposures to a diverse range of plants and environments (collecting trips in local prairies, field excursions to bogs in Canada and treks through forests of the Northeast). He also maintained the campus greenhouse, where he fell in love with tropicals. In recent years, influences on his designs include travels abroad to Europe, Asia and the Yucatan peninsula as well as observation of the work of great plantsmen such as Piet Oudolf and Roy Diblik. Woodruff’s designs often combine grasses, prairie natives and perennials with lush tropical foliage and seasonal blooms. This harmonious blending of plant material that is not conventionally grouped together is the ‘twist’ that makes his style unique.
Adam Woodruff

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