You’ve probably seen ornamental grasses around town; they can be quite stunning with proper care. But, more likely, what you’ve seen in urban areas is what looks like a green porcupine.
The photo above shows an example of Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) at full height and the same species freshly trimmed (left).
These grasses should be trimmed back only annually, if at all, and just before the rainy season so they can flesh out properly. Overzealous trimmers tend to cut these beauties back quarterly, or even monthly, which damages and can ultimately kill the plant.
These grasses are used for accent landscaping, border grasses and wildlife habitat. For example, Fakahatchee grass is the larval food plant for the byssus skipper butterfly.
If you have a place for a nice full, tall grass, you try one of these:
Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is an easy-to-grow ornamental that produces clumps that can reach 2 to 3 feet high and up to 3 feet wide when mature. In fall, muhly grass produces fluffy pink to purple flower stalks that can reach up to 5 feet and give the plant a distinctive and attractive appearance. A lovely white-flowering form is also available. Like most ornamental grasses, muhly will perform best if it’s planted in a sunny area. Water new plants until they are established. After that, they’ll have good drought tolerance. Plants can be cut back to the ground in late winter before the spring flush of foliage appears. You also can give the plants an application of fertilizer as they begin to grow rapidly in spring. As the plants age, they can be lifted in early spring and divided to create new plants.
Fakahatchee grass (Tripsacum dactyloides) has tall, green, grass-like foliage rising upright to form clumps that are between 4 and 6 feet tall and wide. The leaves have small, sharp teeth along their edges. The inconspicuous flowers can be white, pink, yellow, or rust-colored. They appear in late spring on stout spikes that rise above the leaves.
Florida gamagrass (Tripsacum floridanum), sometimes referred to as Dwarf Fakahatchee grass, has blades noticeably more narrow than standard Fakahatchee. This grass attains a height of about 2 to 3 feet and spreads to form a clump up to 6 feet wide. The flowers appear in somewhat showy spikes in the spring.
Both Fakahatchee cultivars grow best in full sun but can handle partial shade. These plants grow best in wet or irrigated sites, but they can adapt to dry sites. Not only do they look good as an accent plant or a border, they can also be used to stabilize slopes or banks.
These grasses need well-drained to moderately well-drained soil for best results. Fakahatchee grass is moderately drought tolerant and is tolerant of standing water or flooding. It will brown and die if exposed to extended periods of below-freezing temperatures, but it returns in the spring. In subtropical areas, Fakahatchee grass is evergreen.
This perennial grass can be pruned if you want to cut it back a bit, but it doesn’t need this to thrive. Fakahatchee grass can be a great addition to the landscape and requires almost no maintenance.
Linda Whitman, a registered landscape architect, obtained her degree in that field from the University of Florida. Whitman has practiced landscape architecture, planning and environmental management for more than 20 years and is a Senior Planner with the city of Coconut Creek. She also is the city’s sustainable coordinator, responsible for maintaining certification with the Florida Green Building Coalition and leading the city’s Green Team to provide the annual Green Plan update.