Fall and early winter bring their own colors here in the Southwest Florida landscape. One such eye-catching plant with fluffy, purple-pink flower heads is called muhly grass. A native plant with wonderful ornamental characteristics, muhly grass is now a standard in many planting beds. While the grassy foliage may blend into the background the rest of the year, muhly grass flower heads explode with color right now in area landscapes.
As mentioned, muhly grass (also known as Hairawn Muhly) is native to our area as well as up the east coast to Massachusetts and west and south into Texas and Mexico. Very resilient in the many habitats from marshy to well-drained, this ornamental grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris, is just one species of many muhly grasses. Noted for its two to three-foot long, thin blades arranged in a large clump with fall/winter hazy purple-pink flower heads, the pink muhly grass is a natural for a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ yard. For a different look, there is a white flower-head cultivar called ‘White Cloud’ – identical in all the features to the pink version. You might also encounter Gulf Hairawn Muhly or Muhlenbergia capillaris var. filipes (aka Muhlenbergia filipes) which is larger and blooms later with reddish-purple flower heads. Planted in mass beds, the wind moves the delicate flower heads in sweeping drifts of color. Highly drought-tolerant once established, this grass has moderate to high salt tolerance and can be used in coastal landscapes.
In the spring, cut back any old winter foliage to rejuvenate the appearance of the clump. Propagation is as simple as dividing old clumps into multiple sections and resetting these pieces back into the landscape. My first Muhly grass plant was in fact a one-gallon division from a Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Sale. With time, this small division has developed into a massive single plant.
Over the years muhly grass has become a standard “bread and butter” item in many of our landscapes – including large commercial plantings in medians and highways. There is a reason for its popularity and success – it is seasonally beautiful! For more information on ornamental grasses suitable for our area, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/ . Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gilman, E. F. (2014) Muhlenbergia capillaris, Muhly Grass. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Salinas, M. (2018) Florida Native: Muhly Grass Muhlenbergia capillaris. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Santa Rosa County
Thetford, M. & Salinas, M. (2019) Considerations for Selection and Use of Ornamental Grasses. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design. (2010) The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘White Cloud’ Missouri Botanical Gardens (2021) Plant Finder.
Avent, T. (2021) Muhlenbergia filipes – Purple Muhly. Plant Delights Nursery, Inc., 9241 Sauls Rd, Raleigh, NC 27603
Dig Deeper – Muhlenbergia. Hoffman Nursery, Inc. 2016.
Weber, J. (2021) Native grasses in Florida. Citrus County Chronicle – https://www.chronicleonline.com/lifestyle/home/native-grasses-in-florida/article_999fa3c0-2e28-11ec-97cc-93a58586c8f5.html