Saturday, November 13, 2021

Wild on Ornamental Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

I admit I am a sucker for Panicum virgatum ornamental grasses.

I think it all started when I read The Obsessive Neurotic Gardener, a gardening blog whose author was particularly enamored of ornamental grasses.

He introduced me to a cultivar called P. virgatum 'Northwind', which not only has metallic green leaves, but looked quite stunning because it grew straight up and did not tend to flop after awhile. 

P, virgatum "Northwind"
I bought  one of these 2 years ago and it was indeed a beauty, with seemingly iridescent blue green  leaves that stood straight as an arrow.  This cultivar was introduced by  Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm, Lake Geneva, WI, and in 2014 it won the Perennial Plant of the Year, awarded by the Perennial Plant Association. I have seen it stand up to very strong winds, the thin blades not bending to the force of the storm.

"Thundercloud" to the left, and "Northwind" to the right

I also bought one of the crosses made using P. virgatum " Northwind" (with the tall cultivar P. virgatum "Cloud Nine") by Hoffman Nurseries, one of the premier ornamental grass suppliers here in the USA. 

P. virgatum "Thundercloud" attains a height of about 2.5 meters, with bluish leaves and the usual airy cloud of panicles. I got it this Spring, and it shot up to 1.3 meters this year (1.5 m with the panicles), easily overshadowing the more diminutive "Northwind". I can't wait to see how it does next year, although I have some concerns about the availability of growing space!

P. virgatum during winter

The largest ornamental grasses in our neighborhood are various cultivars of the non-native Miscanthus  sinensis, although one home seems to have a group of Saccharum ravennae as an unusual addition to their front lawn. But native ornamental grasses like P. virgatum are just as attractive and are certainly just as hardy, and I hope their popularity continues to grow.

Saccharum ravennae

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