Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Ornamental Grass Suitable for Gardens

 Native Fountain Grass
Pennisetum alopecuroides
There is a growing interest in putting a patch of native grasses in our gardens. This comes partly from the realisation that they have ornamental value, and partly from a wish to expand the “bird-attracting garden” concept beyond the currently popular plantings intended to attract honeyeaters.
It is in flower at the moment, and looking particularly good after all the rain we’ve had. These photos were taken in the Condamine valley, upstream of Killarney (by the Condamine Gorge Road) last weekend.
It is one of Australia’s most commonly grown ornamental grasses. It forms a clump above knee height, with graceful arching leaves. The “foxtail” flowerheads are deep purple-black as they emerge, and when the flowers are fully open the large yellow anthers are also showy and shed generous amounts of insect-attracting pollen. As the seeds develop, the heads fade attractively to silver- yellow.
This very frost-hardy grass is also quite drought resistant, but (as is obvious from its name) it looks best if it can be watered, or grown in a part of the garden where water naturally collects. It is happy in heavy soils, and where drainage is poor.
Locally collected seed is the best source of this plant, and it will grow when fresh. The clumps need renewing every spring, by being cut back to two-thirds of their height

The Weed Issue
You sometimes see claims that this fountain grass species is a “weed”, as it is “not native”. This is perfectly true in states outside Queensland and New South Wales. The growing awareness that a plant native to Australia can be a weed outside its natural range is a familiar issue to those of us who share an enthusiasm for growing local natives. A (very) few Australian plants from elsewhere have become environmental weeds here, and are no more welcome in our bushland than privet and prickly pear. There is no justification for growing a plant with obvious potential to become an environmental weed, but here in the Condamine catchment this plant can be grown with a clear conscience.


Sally said...

Not to be confused with White Foxtail P. villosum which is exotic and an abundant weed on roadsides, footpaths and closely-mown lawns in this area.

Patricia Gardner said...

Quite right, Sally. There are various Pennisetum species which have become environmental weeds through out Australia - some to the ruination of enormous tracts of grazing land.