Pennisetum macrourum
Common Name: African feather grass
Type: Ornamental grass
Family: Poaceae
Native Range: Southern and eastern Africa
Zone: 8 to 10
Height: 3.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: Green to yellow-green sometimes tinged with purple, yellow or brown
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Clay Soil

Culture

Warm season tender perennial grass that is winter hardy to USDA Zones 8-10. Best in moist, medium fertile, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade. Performs well in a variety of soils including both clay and sandy loams. Established plants have good drought tolerance. Spreads, sometimes invasively, by self-seeding and rhizomes to form large colonies which choke out most other plants.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Pennisetum macrourum, commonly called African feather grass, is a tender perennial grass that is native to southern Africa, tropical Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (Yemen). It has been introduced in various other parts of the world. Notwithstanding its ornamental beauty, it is noted for spreading invasively by rhizomes and self-seeding in parts of the southern U.S. and Australia. This grass is included on the U.S. Noxious Weed List plus the regulated lists of several states (Alabama, California, Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Vermont). This is a rapid-growing, clump-forming grass that produces upright, arching, narrow, linear green leaves growing in dense clumps to 3-4' tall with unbranched stems (culms) topped by cylindrical flower panicles which rise above the leaves to 5-6’ tall.

Light green leaves (to 1/2” wide) grow from the base of the plant to 45” tall. Leaf margins are sometimes purple-tinted. Leaves consist of a leaf sheath which partially encloses the stem and a spreading linear blade. Flowers appear in late spring and summer in erect or drooping, long, thin, cat-tail-like panicles (each to 4-16” long x 3/4” across) which are green or yellow green sometimes tinged with purple, yellow or brown. Flower spikelets are surrounded by finely-barbed feathery bristles. Flowers turn straw colored as they mature.

Genus name comes from the Latin penna meaning feather and seta meaning bristle in reference to the flowers having long, feathery bristles.

Specific epithet comes from the Greek words macros meaning long and oura meaning tail in reference to the flower spikes.

Common name refers to native territory (Africa) and feathery bristles on the flower heads.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Can be weedy and invasive.

Garden Uses

Ornamental grass for landscape areas where rhizomatous spread is not a problem. Containers which can be overwintered indoors in areas where plants are not winter hardy.