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Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

Posted by spruceman Z6 VA (My Page) on
Sun, Nov 19, 06 at 20:08

In on the top of a windy hill outside Romney WV in a very exposed site next to a Burger King restaurant is a very tall grass that has been growing there for many years. The tan colored (in late fall and winter)plumes must be just about 14 feet tall (a careful estimate). I have heard that Pampas grass is hardy to only Z7, but this is 6A, and a harsh 6A at that. I have seen "hardy" Pampas grass advertized. Could this be a kind of hardy Pampas grass or something else? If something else, what could it be? I think this is a gorgeous plant and want one or two.

--Spruce


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

  • Posted by donn_ 7a, GSB, LI, NY (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 19, 06 at 20:29

It's probably Ravenna Grass, AKA Saccharum ravennae, which used to be called Erianthus ravennae. One of it's common names is Hardy Pampas Grass.

It could be Giant Chinese Silver Grass, AKA Miscanthus giganteus. This is less likely.

It could be Giant Reed, AKA Arundo donax. Also less likely.

Take a picture, and we can ID it more easily.


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

donn:

Thanks! I am not up to speed with digital pictures yet.

But if there are these three possibilities, maybe you can give me your opinion about each--the pros and cons, so to speak.

My wife and I like this grass we see in Romney because it is so tall and blows in the wind so nicely. We live in a very windy spot (way too much wind!) but given we have the wind, we like to enjoy the visual effects of its blowing and tall ornamental grasses are one way to do that.

Any recommendation you can make will much appreciated.

--Spruce


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

  • Posted by donn_ 7a, GSB, LI, NY (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 21, 06 at 13:38

Miscanthus giganteus is hardy to zone 4. It can grow to 14' with stalks up to 2" thick. It has 8-12" flowers in late summer. Most of the leaves fall off as winter comes, leaving a skeleton of bare stalks. If it has a downside, it is that it tends to lose it's lower leaves by the time it flowers. You can plant something else in front of it if you don't like the look.

Saccharum ravennae is unique. It's foliage grows to 5' in a nice clump, then it's flower stalks shoot up another 8-12' above the foliage. It also flowers in late summer, and is rated hardy to zone 6, although there are many examples of it being grown successfully in much colder zones.

Arundo donax is also rated to zone 6, and is also grown successfully in colder zones. In perfect conditions, this monster can reach 25' tall and looks like a grove of bamboo. There are also lovely variegated cultivars, which tend to top out at 10-12' in height. In colder climates, it probably won't flower.

All three of these grasses require a sizable garden, because of their immense proportions. I'm just starting to experiment with Saccharum ravennae, which I started from seed this year. My garden is small, so it will be difficult to site properly, and may not fit in.

I also live in a windy area, right on the water, and am growing a number of grasses just for their interplay with the wind. There are hundreds of shorter grasses, in the 2-8' range (to the plumes) which fit the normal sized garden better than the huge grasses.


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

donn:

Thanks. I think the Ravenna grass will be our first choice, but the others you describe seem very interesting.

We have a couple of medium tall grasses already--one is, if I remember right, a miscanthus called "caberet grass." We bought it thinking it was something else--it was in a row at a nursery that was mislabeled, but when we planted it we found the right tag in the pot. The other we got from a neighbor and I don't know what it is. It has struggled to get established, being a little piece cut off their clump. It has not grown very tall yet, but I think theirs is about 8' tall. It may be another miscanthus variety.

Space is no problem for us--we have 8 acres here in Winchester. VA. The bigger the better!!

I have done a quick web search on Arundo Donax and Miscanthus, and it seems that they are listed as invasive species. Do you know anything about this problem? I found one mention of Ravenna grass as invasive, but it does not seem to be a real problem. Where I am in an open farming area I would not want to be the source of some kind of plant plague, which we have our fill of already.

Do you have any preferred mail order source for your grasses?

--Spruce


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

  • Posted by noki Ohio (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 21, 06 at 21:00

You probably are seeing Arundo donax because it is rarer and a more unique sight that caught you eye and interest. Looks like a dramatic monster alien corn-like plant 10-15' high. Can grow vertically really, really fast... spreads in a clump thru rhizomes like a weed but could be controlled with some work. Likes water but very hardy. In the south it is considered a major pest, but should be fine in 6A. I find it fascinating so far, but grows very quickly. Falls apart in winter.

Ravenna grass is common as an ornamental in Ohio. The grass is rather drab but the tall plumes are very attractive in the fall and thruout the winter, providing interest all winter. Not invasive here.

Miscanthus giganteus is not invasive because it is a sterile hybrid, spreads thru rhizomes and eventually makes a huge clump. Most Miscanthus are not invasive, many are cool.


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

  • Posted by donn_ 7a, GSB, LI, NY (My Page) on
    Wed, Nov 22, 06 at 7:37

I won't enter the fray over M. giganteus, because I haven't grown it, but I don't think it's sterile. Greenlee says it can be grown from seed, and Darke says it seldom self-sows. I've read may accounts of growing it from seed.

That said, it isn't likely to produce viable seed in the colder zones, so invasiveness would be limited to rhizome spread. Here again, Greenlee and Darke disagree on it's expansion rate.

It's a beautiful grass, and well worth experimenting with it if you have the space (and it sounds like you do!).


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

I know Arundo Donax very well because it is a VERY widespread native grass in the part of Italy where I live. It is also commonly grown in farms and in large vegetable gardens to use its dead reeds as plants and vegetables supports and as fences building material.

I would not call AD "invasive" but "constantly grower". In fact it doesn't produce zillions of seedlings like other invasive plants do, but - like bamboo- it NEVER stops spreading itself through underground rhizomes. In perfect growing confitions it could turn into a real forest in a few years!

However it is quite easy to take it under control by eradicating the new sprouted rhizomes. I'm also sure that the cold of zone 6 (here we're in zone 9) will reduce its growing habit.


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

The reason I said the M. giganteus was a sterile plant was from a couple of articles I saw about growing M. giganteus commercially for bio-fuel, which claimed that M. giganteus was chosen because it was non-invasive and safe... I dunno... sorry to spread disinformation. Maybe they are talking about similar but different plants? M. giganteus' origin is somewhat a mystery in any event, science classification wise...


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RE: Very, very tall hardy grass--what is it?

  • Posted by lkz5ia z5 west iowa (My Page) on
    Sun, Nov 26, 06 at 20:58

2005-started quartpot of arundo donax along a stream. Hit 14ft first year. Clump is a couple feet wide now.

2006-started quartpot of Miscanthus giganteus. Hit 2ft tall.

2006-started seed of Saccharum ravennae. Foliage is 3.5 ft tall with a plume 6ft high.

Just some things I noticed with my limited experience.


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