Dictionary of Flowers: Pennisetum (Fountain Grass)

Lovely Fountain Grass, aka Pennisetum. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of N'Grid and Flickr
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Lovely Fountain Grass, aka Pennisetum. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of N'Grid and Flickr

  • Pennisetum
  • Common name: fountain grass
  • Family: Poaceae
  • Category: half hardy annual, frost sensitive, perennial depending on species
  • Height: 3’ to 5’
  • Width: 18" to 24"
  • Sun/part shade
  • Blooms: grown for foliage
  • Attracts: birds
  • Growth habit: clumping, mounding, upright, arching. Used as a thriller in container combinations
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average, well drained. Water regularly if grown in containers
  • Garden uses: containers, mixed border, edging plant, cut flower garden
  • Diseases: foliar diseases
  • Pests: slugs and snails in wet weather

Pennisetum is a genus of elegant, tough grasses. They can be perennial or annual, depending on the species.

Some species like millet (p. glaucum) are edible. Pennisetums are native to temperate and tropical areas. The ornamental varieties are grown for their foliage interest.

Blades can range in color from green to dark purple or reddish. Although mainly grown for foliage, they do bloom.

Flowers are feathery, plume-like in colors like beige or pink. In areas where perennial, they can become invasive. 

Pennisetum grows best in sun to part sun. They are tolerant of a lot of conditions, including drought, alkaline or acid soil, wind or high humidity.

They are easily available in nurseries during spring and summer. When growing in containers, water on a regular schedule and make sure the containers have good drainage.

Fertilize sparingly about once a month with a balanced liquid fertilizer.

Pennisetums can be divided when grown as perennials in warm zones in early to mid spring. It needs to be sheared back before dividing. Replant the divisions immediately. 

IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Pennisetum can be propagated easily by seed. Plant fresh seeds in moist starting mix, barely covering them.

Place plastic over the containers to keep humidity level. When kept at about 60F, seeds germinate in fifteen days to a month.

Thin seedlings when they reach two inches. Keep seedlings in a warm environment no less than 60. Harden off and plant outside after all danger of frost has passed and when nights start to warm up. 




IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Though fairly disease resistant, it can develop foliar diseases. Treat as needed or discard affected plants. Slugs and snails can attack plants in wet weather. Bait as needed.

Popular varieties:

  • Pennisetum purpureum 'Prince' - hardy to USDA zone 7. Dark blades, four feet tall
  • Pennisetum setaceum 'Eaton Canyon' - annual, thin bronze blades and reddish plumes. One to three feet tall
  • Pennisetum setaceum 'Fireworks' - annual, different cultivars have different colored blades, from green to burgundy. Three to five feet tall
  • Pennisetum setaceum 'Red Riding Hood' - annual, broad blades, burgundy colored. Plumes are rosy red. One to two feet tall
  • Pennisetum setaceum 'Rubrum Compactum' - dwarf variety, burgundy blades. Twelve to eighteen inches tall
  • Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Little Bunny' - compact, green blades with beige plumes. Up to one and a half feet tall
  • Pennisetum glaucum 'Purple Majesty' - striking purple blades. Three to five feet tall

IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Full List of Dictionary of Flowers Entries

Annuals For Containers

Perennials For Containers

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