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swamp foxtail grass | pennisetum alopecuroides

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Posted by EDITOR 1 Jun 2010 - 12:59:00 PM

First calendar day of winter. I'm of the school that thinks the equinoxes and solstices are better markers of the seasons turning. Real winter with the growing season starting to bottom out is a few weeks away. There's still plenty of autumn about. Like the plumes of flowering grasses.

Among the most ornamental of the native grasses must be this Swamp Foxtail Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides). It's related to kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum – can you ever trust a plant branded clandestine?) and the Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum), a weedy African and Middle Eastern invader with which the local is easily confused.

The alien species has very coarse leaves. It tends to have longer, tighter plumes that are pointier at the tips and more arching habit that – it has to be conceded – make it rather elegant. It's likely to be the one growing vigorously by the side of the road or rail line. Don't be tempted into propagating from those.

Even nurseries can mix them up and sell the wrong one – not that the weedy one should really be sold at all anymore. Buying one of the recent cultivars like ‘Black Lea', ‘Purple Lea', ‘Cream Lea' or ‘Nafray' will guarantee you've got a reliable form of the native species – in the colour of your choice.

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