In the late 80s, landscape design was heavily influenced by two horticultural pioneers, Wolfgang Oehme and Kurt Bluemel, who promoted the use of decorative grasses in public spaces and home landscapes. Within just a few years, beautiful varieties of hardy clumping grasses became available and found a place in both commercial and residential landscapes. The genus Miscanthus sinensis aka “Maiden Grass” has about 20 species and a wide variety of cultivars. Native to China, Japan, and Korea and is the dominant species in Japan’s grasslands.
Miscanthus sinensis cultivars are the most widely planted non-native clump grasses in Europe and North America. Dwarf varieties (3-4’) such as ’Little Zebra’, ‘Little Kitten’, and ‘Adagio’ fit into small gardens and borders while larger varieties (7-12’) like ‘Gracillimus’, ‘Morning Light’, Porcupine’, and Silver Feather’ excel as specimens, backgrounds, and screens.
After decades of use, some horticulturists have been sounding the alarm. The strengths that make miscathus a durable, adaptable garden plant also qualify it for naturalizing in habitats far beyond its origins. Older “antique” varieties require long, hot summers to set viable seed which is why they are not usually planted south of the Ohio River, However, newer cultivars were developed to flower (and set seed) in shorter seasons. So, unfortunately, these newer varieties have become prolific self-sowers. The generally warming climate has also resulted in even the older varieties becoming invasive here in central Indiana.
It’s increasingly common to see graceful clumps of miscanthus growing along highways across Indiana (see photo). While not yet a serious threat to local habitats, the potential for problems is real. Luckily, there are wonderful, beautiful native grasses homeowners should consider replacing their miscanthus with in their gardens or landscapes. Varieties of native Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Switch Grass, and Prairie Dropseed make beautiful garden additions. They combine nicely with native wildflowers as well. This is something to think about over the winter!